Rules of Battle

 

13 Rules of Battle for Survival in the Entertainment Industry By Steven T. Lowe and Aleksandra Hilvert

After handling numerous cases for writers and creators in the entertainment industry, the firm has distilled from experience a list of rules to best protect yourself and increase your chances of winning your case:

1. Keep Records of All Submissions 

  • When you submit your intellectual property (including screenplays, music, and ideas for T.V. shows) to anyone, keep records of the submission.
  • If you make the submission by email, save the email and attachment, and ideally get the person to whom it was sent to acknowledge the receipt.
  • If you make a submission by hand delivery, use a reputable courier (and save a digital copy of the invoice).
  • If you submit by overnight mail, which is another great way to make a submission, save digital records including the receipt for delivery charges and a copy of what was sent.

2. Do Not Sign Submission Agreements

  • Do not, under any circumstances, sign a “submission agreement.” A submission agreement (whether called a submission agreement or something else) is an agreement that a company gives you to sign before you make a submission to them.
    o If you sign it, you are waiving important rights under the law.
    o If the company insists upon a submission agreement, either decline the submission or hire a lawyer to review it.

3. Do Not Make Unsolicited Submissions if at All Possible

  • Get permission or an invitation in advance (it does not have to be written), to submit your intellectual property to people in the entertainment industry; when you make the submission, confirm that it was requested in your cover letter.
  • If you can’t get permission or an invitation, you will need to hire a lawyer (or find an agent or manager) to make submissions for you.

4. Register Your Intellectual Property 

  • Register all Intellectual Property including screenplays, treatments, films, books, music, and other “expressive works” with the United States Copyright Office (and where applicable, the United States Patent and Trademark Office as well).
  • DO NOT just register your IP with the Writers Guild of America (WGA): Not only do the WGA registrations “expire,” but they do not give you any of the rights that you get by registering with the Copyright Office (which include the right to “statutory damages” and attorney’s fees if you have to file a lawsuit).
  • Register when you complete your IP; do not wait.

5. Confirm Receipt for In Person Submissions

  • If you hand your intellectual property to somebody, get their card (if they have one). Then, send them a confirmation email.
  • If you make an in-person “pitch” to someone, confirm what occurred at the meeting (and whether any documents were left in the recipient’s possession) via email after the meeting.

6. Save and Store Text Messages/Voicemails

  • Save all voicemails and text messages which may be relevant to an entertainment project.
  • Do not let important messages get deleted from your voicemail; record them and store them.
  • In an ideal world, screenshot and email yourself important text messages in case you ever lose your phone (it can happen).

7. Deal Memos are Fantastic

  • Don’t do any work on any projects without at least having a deal memo in place, if at all possible.

8. Hire A Professional Early

  • Don’t draft or negotiate your own contracts.
  • Contact an experienced entertainment attorney early (“an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”).

9. Keep Your Cool

  • Try not to defame or disparage anybody or get violent or abusive (especially on social media).
  • Hold your temper.
  • Don’t make false statements.

10. WGA Upkeep

  • Don’t let your WGA registration expire (on the West Coast, it expires in 5 years; on the East Coast, in 10).
  • Make sure to register with the United States Copyright Office as well (see, rule #4).

11. Make Sure Agents/Partners Also Keep Records

  • Make sure your agent/partner is keeping records.

12. Back-Up Copies

  • Always make back-up digital (and hard) copies of everything.
  • Keep back-up copies of all contracts, preferably with signatures.

13. Register Television Titles with The Trademark Office

  • Register any television series’ title with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

Conclusion

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 for the creation), and they don’t want outsiders invading their inner circle. Be selective with whom you deal, if at all possible. If you follow these 13 Rules of Battle (or most of them) and you still get screwed over, you need a good lawyer. Come see us.