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 (Including scripts, music, etc.)
Keep records of all submissions by:
- Email (ideally, you should obtain an email response)
- Overnight mail (and keep a digital copy of proof of mailing)
- Hand delivery (and keep a digital copy of proof)
2. Make Sure Agents/Producing Partners Also Keep Records
If you are entrusting anybody else to make submissions on your behalf (such as an agent or a business partner), make sure that they also keep records and send you a proof for your own files. This has the added benefit of enabling you to keep track of who passed, who’s interested, etc. (which Is oftentimes important).
3. Do Not Sign Submission Agreements
DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, sign a “submission agreement.” If you do, you are waiving important rights. If the other side insists, hire a lawyer to review it to protect your rights.
4. Do Not Make Unsolicited Submissions if at All Possible
Try and always get permission or an invitation to submit your intellectual property to anybody in the entertainment industry. Then 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 they keep your work confidential; and 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.)
5. Confirm Receipt for In Person Submissions
If you do hand submission to someone In person, you should:
- Get their card (if they have one)
- Have them sign a receipt or send them a confirming letter/email
- Generally, after an in-person meeting, it is a good idea to confirm what occurred (and whether any documents were left in the recipient’s possession) via email
6. Save and Store Text Messages/Voicemails
Save all voicemail and text messages which may be relevant to an entertainment project – DO NOT let messages “fall off” your voicemail after a couple of months – play them onto another device if necessary. Screenshot and email yourself copies of important text messages.
7. 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. YOU SHOULD NOT just register with the WGA 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.
Registration is relatively straightforward, but if you need assistance (as where there are multiple authors or other issues) hire an entertainment lawyer to help you.
8. Hire A Professional Early
Don’t draft, review or negotiate your own contracts; hire a good entertainment attorney early on in the process to at least prepare a “deal memo.” A good lawyer will save you time and headaches down the road. Keep back-up copies of all contracts.
9. Deal Memos are Fantastic
Don’t do any work on any projects whatsoever without at least having a deal memo in place which sets forth the basic terms such as your scope of services, compensation rate, and term, in words that a “layman” can understand. Even “deal memos” should Ideally be prepared by a lawyer.
10. 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 as well.
11. 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.
12. Back-Up Copies
Whenever sending any document via the mail/overnight mail or hand delivery, make copies of the document.
13. 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.
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.