17 Rules Of Battle For Survival In The Entertainment Industry
By Steven T. Lowe
After handling numerous cases for writers and creators in the entertainment industry, Mr. Lowe has distilled from his experience a list of “do’s” and “don’t”s to be ready for litigation if it’s necessary:
1. Keep Records of All Submissions (Including scripts, music, etc.)
Keep records of all submissions by:
- Email (ideally you should obtain confirmation of receipt via an email response);
- Overnight mail (and keep a digital copy of proof);
- Hand delivery by a reputable courier (and keep a digital copy of proof).
2. Don’t Mess with #1!
If possible, don’t use any other means of delivery besides those in Rule #1. And, if you are entrusting anybody else to make submissions on your behalf, make sure that they also do the foregoing and keep records thereof.
3. Confirm Receipt for In Person Submissions
If you do hand submission to someone yourself, you should:
- Get their card (if they have one); and
- Have them sign a receipt or send them a confirming letter/email.
4. Obtain Confirmation of Electronic Receipt, If Possible
If you submit Intellectual Property by email, you would like the recipient to acknowledge receipt in a responding email.
5. Save and Store Voicemails
Save all voicemail and answering machine messages which may be relevant to an entertainment project – DO NO let messages “fall off” your voicemail after a couple of months – play them onto another device if necessary.
6. Register Your IP
Register all screenplays, treatments, films, books, music, and other expressive works with the United States Copyright office. DO NOT just register with the WGA. The reasons that YOU SHOULD NOT just register with the WGA are because (a) registration with the WGA does not give you any of the rights that registration with the US Copyright Office gives you (and there are at least two important ones) and (b) the WGA destroys your work after 5 years (on the West Coast) and after 10 years (on the East Coast) (if you forget to renew). The Copyright Office keeps it forever.
7. Play It Safe
Get a good entertainment attorney early on in the process; he or she will save you problems (e.g., money) down the line.
8. Professional Drafting
Don’t draft your own contracts; pay minimal fees for an attorney to do a “deal memo.”
9. Deal Memos
Don’t do any work on any projects whatsoever without at least having a deal memo in place.
10. Before You Sign
Never sign a contract, no matter how short, without having an entertainment attorney review it first.
11. WGA Upkeep
If you’ve registered your work with the WGA, don’t let your WGA registration expire. However, we highly recommend registering with the United States Copyright Office, rather than the WGA.
12. Keep Your Cool
No matter how frustrated you get, don’t slander anybody or get violent or abusive (especially on social media); hold your temper and don’t make false statements.
13. Do Not Sign Submission Agreements
Always send a confirming letter but DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES sign a “submission agreement.” If you do, you are waiving important rights.
14. Back-Up Copies
Whenever sending any document, make copies of the document.
15. Only Make Solicited Submissions
ALWAYS get an invitation to submit your intellectual property to third parties. Make sure to confirm that the submission was requested in the cover letter. (The cover letter might also confirm that you are submitting the project with the expectation that if they are interested in exploiting all of any portion of the project that they will negotiate with you in good faith for compensation and credit, or words to that effect.)
16. Register Television Titles with The Trademark Office
If your title is for a television series, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) accepts and registers titles for television series. If you have a fantastic film title, it doesn’t hurt to file an “intent to use” trademark application for a television series since a television series may follow a successful film release.
17. Start With the Assumption That People Will Steal If Your Project is Commercially Viable
There is a voracious appetite for creative content. There are a plethora of platforms for those in the inner circle of the entertainment industry, who have a tactical advantage in the marketplace. They constantly need new material. The reason that they would rather steal from you than bring you in is mostly EGO (i.e. to be credited with the creation) and they already have their team that they like working with. Keep ALL proof. Be careful. Be selective with whom you deal, if at all possible. If you follow these 17 rules of battle or most of them, and you still get screwed over in the entertainment industry, you need a good lawyer. Come to us.