Palestine, TX asked in Intellectual Property for Texas

Q: Am I protected against copyright infringement for using work of an unpublished, unregistered book manuscript?

I have written a screenplay based on a true story that includes a forgotten historical figure, the man who researched and wrote about him, and myself, who found the lost manuscript of the deceased author and decided to tell their stories. My work is more derivative than adaptation, but still uses parts of the original work in the storytelling. Most of my research was found in museums, historic commission collections, and university research library collections. I contacted family members regarding my research and intentions before and during the screenplay writing process. Some were very supportive and helpful. Others wanted contracts for 10% of whatever sale I make. They succeeded in closing a research collection for ten years, after I informed them of some personal writings I had found. Thankfully, I had already finished 95% of research. I really need to know my rights before I pitch to producers. This is my first screenplay and am very new to entertainment law. Thank you.

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1 Lawyer Answer
John B. Hudak
John B. Hudak

A: This situation has a lot of facts related to the situation.

You have spent such a significant amount of time working on the project so overall you will want to consult with a copyright/entertainment attorney. It would be an injustice for you to take anything from a message board as guidance for your plan on how to proceed from here because the time and attention cannot be given – for what is required.

Generally, no one has rights to historical facts or ideas in general. It is the expression of those historical facts or ideas. You’ll have to strategize about the best way to pitch this newly compiled historical story – related to a further artistic work, the movie. As a caveat, there are rights to the publicity/likeness of an individual that run after the person’s death – the laws are state dependent.

Consider hiring a copyright/entertainment attorney to review the specific facts to the case.

This answer includes generalizations and there are many caveats. This answer does not form an attorney client relationship.

Kathryn Perales agrees with this answer

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