Writers and producers often draw inspiration for films from real-life events and people, and the first question they may ask is “How do I get the rights?” However, in the article “Do Filmmakers Actually Have to Acquire Life Rights?” published in Intellectual Property Magazine, Partner Lisa Callif argues that the correct question to ask is actually “Do I need to get the rights?”
In her article, Lisa discusses how filmmakers should determine whether or not they need to secure permission to craft their stories. “If you love the expression of [a] Vanity Fair article and want to use the story as written in the article, you had better get the rights to that article,” she writes. “On the other hand, if you are simply culling facts from that article and it is one of many sources that you are using to craft your own story, you don’t need to secure permission.”
Lisa also outlines the advantages of buying underlying rights even if a source is in the public domain. These benefits include making studios and financiers more comfortable with a project; easing the burden of obtaining Errors & Omissions insurance; and potentially helping filmmakers to discover harder-to-find information about a topic or person. However, legally speaking, filmmakers are not required to acquire the life-story rights to facts in the public domain. This means that in the end, it’s up to every filmmaker to decide whether purchasing life rights is the right move for their story.