Steves Sheets

Legal and Ethical Issues that concern Script Writers

Contains Sheets:

Sheet 1- Scriptwriting, Law and Ethics

Sheet 2 – Scriptwriting, Working as a Writer

Sheet 3 – Understanding the Responsibilities and Obligations of a Scriptwriter

Every writer must think about the legal and ethical considerations while writing. The ethical issues include bias and conflict of interest. The legal issues include copyright, libel and censorship.

Writers must properly copyright their work otherwise their content and ideas will be stolen by another writer. On their manuscripts, the copyright must be clearly exposed. So it must appear on the front cover of the script and on the foot of every page in the script. When the reader looks at the writers’ script, it will notice that it will not have the right to the steal content unless it has permission from the writer of the script.

For censorship, writers are restricted in using sex or violence. It is doubtful to release a film that shows real sexism and racial intolerance. However, some will argue that this content is good for showing these issues in a positive way. It will demonstrate that the writer followed the social values beyond what the censorship board controls.

A libel issue is worse for a writer because it could end its’ career. So the screenwriter must write the truth about its’ personal experience and what it it can prove. A libel issue can affect a fiction and a non-fiction writer. Producing a professional script with information based on real life is seen as libellous. If it was about a real person, it must be made with care or that person will be harmed.

Legal Issues for Script Writers

You need to be diligent when it comes to dealing with the legal issues that may arise while you are writing and selling your screenplay, including hiring an agent and manager. Otherwise, you may end up jointly owning your screenplay with another writer, though it was not your intention; may be sued for copyright infringement for incorporating copyright protected material into your screenplay that you thought was in the public domain; could waste your time writing a derivative work based on an original whose rights you cannot acquire; may not be paid compensation and rights you’re entitled to when you sell your screenplay; may not be able to shop or sell your screenplay; and may find it impossible to replace your current agent or manager. Overall, consulting with an entertainment attorney up front is much more cost efficient that attempting to fix mistakes and settle disputes that could have been avoided. Whenever I say “attorney” herein, I mean “entertainment attorney.”

This chapter endeavours to inform you of the legal issues that exist as you navigate through the process of writing, shopping, selling your screenplay, and hiring an agent, manager, and attorney. This is not a full exploration of the law, nor is it intended to make you an expert in the field. Rather, it is meant to help you spot the issues that may require legal counsel and the important deal terms of the agreements into which you may enter into as a screenwriter. There is a primer on the basics of copyright law up front. Thereafter, I have organised the information in a sequential manner that guides you on your journey, start to finish.


Censorship – The suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

Copyright – One of the main types of intellectual property – others include designs, patents and trademarks. Intellectual property allows a person to own things they create in the same way as something physical can be owned. It is the right to prevent others copying or reproducing someone’s work.

Libel – A method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.

Manuscript – (abbreviated MS or MSS for plural) Any document written by hand or typewritten, as opposed to being mechanically printed or reproduced in some automated way. More recently it is understood to be an author’s written, typed, or word-processed copy of a work, as distinguished from the print of the same.

Ethics – Ethics or moral philosophy is the branch of philosophy that involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

Defamation – Calumny, vilification, and traducement—is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation in a negative.

Contempt – The offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful of a court of law and its officers and/or disregard for something that should be considered.

Children and Young Persons Act 2008 – Relating to scriptwriting, if performing an interview children under 18 would have to be accompanied by an adult and may not be allowed to ask certain questions. This applies to TV shows and movies as well, certain scenes may not be acceptable with under 18’s in them such as sexual scenes. A good example of this is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where Daniel Radcliffe had to have his mother on set with him for his kiss scene with Cho. This all links back to morals and ethics towards children and young people, as any form of child pornography is legal so when under 18’s are involved in scenes like this the producers have to be careful when filming.

Confidentiality (Data Protection Act 1998) – The Data Protection Act controls how your personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government.

Everyone responsible for using data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’.

They must make sure the information is:

  • used fairly and lawfully
  • used for limited, specifically stated purposes
  • used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • accurate
  • kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
  • handled according to people’s data protection rights
  • kept safe and secure
  • not transferred outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection

There is stronger legal protection for more sensitive information, such as:

  • ethnic background
  • political opinions
  • religious beliefs
  • health
  • sexual health
  • criminal records

Applying this to Script writing; any information you may or may not expose over social media to certain people may or may not fall under this category. Say you give your idea to a publisher then they accidentally leak it to another writer, that is on them and you could sue for your intellectual property.

Write a 200 word report detailing your findings on the following terms:

Official Secrets Act – The Official Secrets Act is a term used in Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom, and formerly in Canada and New Zealand for legislation that provides for the protection of state secrets and official information, mainly related to national security. This can however also apply to script writing for the secretive side of writing.

Codes of Practice (Including BBC Code of Ethics) – The BBC code of ethics was drawn up in conjunction with the laws passed by the UK government to monitor and protect the privacy and interests of public figures and the company within the public eye. It covers multiple areas including mainly but not limited too, Media, Writing and intellectual property within the media. Ethics and morals are a big part of the BBCs public image so they must follow a certain set of guidelines and maintain the view of the public that they are a neutral and unbiased party when reporting on happenings. The loss of this trust from the public would result in public enquiries and a low turnout for the organisation in terms of profit. Trust is everything when it comes to news outlets building a base from which they will draw the majority of their revenue.

Privacy – Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share common themes. For script writing in the UK privacy would involve the ability to legally maintain some peace and quiet whilst one works on his script, and safety from the constant harassment of media in your private places, such as your residence.

Intrusion –  The act of wrongfully entering upon, seizing, or taking possession of the property of another. Applying this to scrip writing is easy, if someone forcibly stole/seized your work you would have a case for intrusion among other things against them.

Harassment – Harassment is any unwelcome comments (written or spoken) or conduct which: violates an individual’s dignity; and/or. creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Anyone commenting on you or your work negatively with the intent purpose of violating your dignity and creating an offensive/humiliating environment would be fair game for a court case on harassment. You could force them to stop this way through the courts via a restraining order of another kind of judgement.

Overall I’d say all these terms were made within the law to prevent intellectual copyright theft and breaches in others peoples human rights. The way an idea works is that once you have it as long as you can prove that its yours through copyrighting etc and it hasn’t already been claimed by someone else then it is yours for the next 100 years after your death. The breach of any of these terms can result in either imprisonment or considerable fines and law suits over the idea, so it is best to stick to your own ideas and not to steal off of others.

The problem that people tend to face is actually proving that an idea was theirs in the first place, the only real way to do so is to take out either a copyright with a script writing board or to have all your notes throughout your thought process organised and easily accessible when required.

All these terms and laws can interlink with each over providing a solid cover for anyone who may have had their idea stolen or poached by others. This is key in a society which promotes self enterprise and creativity.

Research the Commissioning Process Involved in Writing for Television and Video


In filmmaking and video production, pre-production formally begins once a project has been green-lit. At this stage, finalising preparations for production go into effect. Financing will generally be confirmed and many of the key elements such as principal cast members, director and cinematographer are set. By the end of pre-production, the screenplay is usually finalised and satisfactory to all the financiers and other stakeholders.

During pre-production, the script is broken down into individual scenes storyboards and all the locations, props, cast members, costumes, special effects and visual effects are identified. An extremely detailed schedule is produced and arrangements are made for the necessary elements to be available to the film-makers at the appropriate times. Sets are constructed, the crew is hired, financial arrangements are put in place and a start date for the beginning of principal photography is set. At some point in pre-production there will be a read-through of the script which is usually attended by all cast members with speaking parts, the director, all heads of departments, financiers, producers, and publicists.

Even though the writer may still be working on it, the screenplay is generally page-locked and scene numbered at the beginning of pre-production to avoid confusion. This means that even though additions and deletions may still be made, any particular scene will always fall on the same page and have the same scene number.


In this stage you work out your filmmaking idea and how you will tell your story. You must have an idea or story, however simple, and you need to make sure it’s clear. Try writing it down in 50 words or one tweet: if you can’t, you need to rethink it or simplify it.

Once you’ve got your idea, you can think about how to turn it into a film. There are lots of different ways of doing this. A mindmap, where you write down all the ideas that might help, can be a good place to start.

You could write a treatment. This is a detailed description of the story and how it will look and sound on film. Here’s an example: James Cameron’s original treatment for Terminator.

If your scenes are complex, you can make storyboards to help work out how you’re going to film them. Working out the shots in advance will help you make sure you get everything you need on the day. These are a good way to make sure that the shots make sense together.

Do a recce: visit the settings where you’re going to film. Check that you can get permission to film there, if you need it. Check the light. Check that there won’t be any interruptions or distracting sounds. Check there’s space to get all the camera positions you need.

Most importantly, make sure you have all the people and all the gear you need before you start shooting. You can use call sheets to organise this. Make sure you get any legal agreements – e.g. actor release forms – signed before you start shooting: you don’t want to be arguing about these after you’ve completed your film.

Script Editing:

A script editor is a member of the production team of scripted television programmes, usually dramas and comedies. The script editor has many responsibilities including finding new script writers, developing storyline and series ideas with writers, ensuring that scripts are suitable for production. The script editor will work closely with the writer at each draft of their script, giving the writer feedback on the quality of their work, suggesting improvements that can be made whilst also ensuring that practical issues like show continuity and correct running time are adhered to. Unlike the writers, script editors will usually be full-time members of the production team, working closely with the producer.

Director or Producer Involvement:

Film producers prepare and then supervise the making of a film before presenting the product to a financing entity or a film distributor. Either employed by a production company or independent, they help the creative people as well as the accounting personnel.

Generally, a film director controls a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, and visualises the script while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking.

The script will go through a stage of editing by either the producer of director in an attempt to fine tune the film to their specifications.

Shooting Script Production:

When a screenplay is approved for production, the scenes are assigned numbers which are included in the script alongside the scene headers. The numbers provide a convenient way for the various production departments to reference individual scenes. Also each individual shot within a scene is also assigned numbers. For instance Scene 1 Shot 1, 2, 3,4,5 etc.

After a shooting script has been widely circulated, page numbers are locked, and any revisions are distributed on revision pages. Thus the production office might issue a revision containing new pages 3, 9, 17 and 45. This avoids having to print and distribute an entirely new draft for every set of revisions, which would entail crew members having to transfer all their handwritten notes to a new script. If scenes on page 45 become longer, they will be continued on new pages 45A, 45B and so on; if the scenes on page 45 are all eliminated, a new page 45 will be issued with the word “OMITTED” as the absence of a page 45 might look like an error.

Revision pages are distributed on colored paper, a different color for each set of revisions, with each changed line marked by an asterisk in the right margin of the page. The progression of colors varies from one production to the next, but a typical sequence would be: white, blue, pink, yellow, green, goldenrod, buff, salmon, cherry, tan, ivory, white (this time known as “double white”), and back to blue (“double blue”).

When the Assistant Director believes that there are more changed pages than are worth swapping out, the Script Coordinator may issue an entirely fresh script in the appropriate revision color. In some cases, usually before the start of principal photography, an entirely new “white draft” will be distributed in lieu of colored revision pages. The pages in a white draft are renumbered from scratch, while the original scene numbers are maintained.

Page Lock-Down:

Once the script is “published” and handed out to the department heads and talent in preparation for production, the pages must be LOCKED so that any changes made after this time are easily tracked.

If any changes are made to the script after circulation, only the REVISED PAGES will be printed and distributed. The REVISED PAGES must be easily incorporated into the script without displacing or rearranging the original pages.

All of our script writing software is designed to break revised pages according to the rules listed above, and they are capable of “locking the pages” before revisions are made. Once you lock a script, if you add more material to a page than will fit on that page, the program will generate what’s called an “A” page and the subsequent writing will be a “B” page, i.e. Page 110A or Page 110B.

Adjustment During:

The adjustments during are last minute changes made to the script on the day by the director or producer. These may be minor changes in dialogue but should be noted down regardless so as to see the change in script.

Now research the following issues that will effect those working as writers:

Agent Representation: 

Screenwriting agents, managers and entertainment attorneys all represent a screenwriter’s career in different ways. A manager is just that, someone who manages your overall career, helping a screenwriter choose and develop marketable screenplays. An agent and/or entertainment attorney negotiates and closes the deal on the script sale. Learn how each one of these representatives work in order to choose the right combination for the stage you are at in your own screenwriting career.

Royalty Payments:

Royalty payments are a way of giving money to the people who helped make something whenever it is played, for example if a song comes on the radio the band or artist who played it will get a royalty payment, if a script is bought by a production company and then turned into a film or television series the script writer will receive money every time that the piece is shown or used. A royalty fee is a series of usage based payments from the user to the person who made it. The royalty fees can range up to 15% of money gained but can be very little at the same time. Songs that are over 70 years old are royalty free so that if a television show uses an old tune they don’t have to pay for it. Many scripts have been recycled and have used certain parts from other films or television series’ which results in the production company having to pay royalties to the old writer as well when a film is remade.

Professional Presentation:

When presenting your finished script it is vitally important that it is presented in a professional and correct way. If a script isn’t written according to the conventions of a usual script, then often it will be immediately rejected. This is because the person reading your script want to see that you know about how a script is written properly, and wont bother to read it if it is set out in a scruffy and wrong way. Celtx the free online scriptwriting website is a tool used by scriptwriters to structure their work neat and efficiently.

Time Management (Meeting a Deadline):

Managing your time correctly when writing a screenplay is vital. If you spend too much time or get hung up on the minute details in a script, you may end up with a novel rather than a script. A common problem when writing a screenplay is spending alot of time trying to think of an amazing idea, because the longer and harder you try to think of an idea, the less likely it is to come to you. Taking a small idea and adding things to it is away of getting past this, and playing games to pop random things into your head is also a good way to get started. This is a sure fire way to get you writing, rather than spending a colossal amount of time thinking. Also, first ideas are often the best.
A lot of writers spend a lot of time thinking of characters, and create elaborate ideas which end up being hard to portray. The less time you spend creating a character and listing all their traits and mannerisms, the more time you can have breathing life into that character through their actions, which will add a lot more depth to that character. You learn more from a character by the way they act in situations, rather than in descriptions.
Some production companies and screenwriting competitions will ask for a sample of your script before they want to see the whole thing. In this situation it is important that this sample is representative of you entire script. For example if the sample is to be 10 pages long then there is no point making an excellent 10 pages and having another 108 pages of rubbish, in other words all parts of a script should have equal amounts of time spent on them.

Scriptwriting – Understanding the Responsibilities and Obligations
A scriptwriter has the responsibility to be aware of the social and cultural issues that may be affecting the public, this is to make sure not to press on sensitive issues too much to avoid controversy. This does not mean scriptwriters should veer away from controversial topics – possibly it could be the opposite – but they may have to be careful about the way in which they depict certain groups of people so as to avoid accusations of racism, sexism etc. It is important fair representation is an element of what scriptwriters for television and video produce;
Research these important and essential areas to assist in you in preparing your own scripts.
Research the following terms and how these groups of people may have been offended in the past by previous writers. Find examples online.
Race – If a scriptwriter is not too careful he could easily walk into accusations of racism. For example, if you portrayed a particular race in a negative light and played on their stereotypes then you may be facing a lawsuit over the matter. Recently the writer of the hit US television show ‘Empire’ was berated by black viewers due to his portrayal of black people in the show. Lee Daniel, a prominent black rights activist said that the reason they were so upset was “Its not right a white person writing for a black person, as it only shows the white persons view of the black person, not the black persons view of himself”
Gender – Same sort of thing with gender, if say you portrayed a woman as excessively weak and not able to do anything for herself in a TV show or film you may face accusations of sexism. An example of this would be Mark Lathams recent disagreement with feminists, he criticised a few prominent women in one of his articles that they mistook as him being sexist. Sometimes offence can’t be helped, as some people want to be offended.
Sexuality – This also applies to sexuality, if you were to portray homosexuals in a negative light you would receive criticism for that. The key feature i’ve noticed is that presenting people in those ways is fine, but you have to give reasoning and show them as that for a reason, so that appears to be more than just a stereotype. A good example of this would be the reason debacle involving the supposed gay gene within humans. This story/biased study was misrepresented within multiple media outlets leading to a large and united response from the gay community against such blatant anti-gay propaganda.
Religion – Same concept, mentioning something that specific religious groups may find offensive could land you in a heap of trouble. A fantastic example of this is the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings, where a French newspaper company was targeted by Islamic extremists when they showed a picture of the prophet Muhammad in their publication. This led to outrage in the muslim community and death threats from the group, which came to fruition. This is probably one of the most real and serious examples of just what your writing or publishing could get you into – the key is to know what you’re getting into.
Why is the credibility of a script so important? Research the following terms:
Objectivity – When you look at a topic area from an objective viewpoint, you are looking at it as an outsider or “third person”. Like a “fly on the wall”, you are simply reporting what you see.

Take, for instance, a party. An objective narrative might sound something like this:
The private party room was cramped. Although Roger and Mabel managed to dance with one another, they looked as if their steps were uncomfortable and stilted. Poor Rita had to satisfy herself by eating. Though she said, “This is amazing,” as she munched on an éclair, it was obvious she was being sarcastic. The party was so boring that the dog in the corner couldn’t even stay awake!

Alternatively, take a look at the same party from a subjective standpoint where the writer inserts his or her own interpretations into the mix.Notice that there are no emotions in this report that can be attributed to the author. Instead, the one quote that has feeling was actually said by someone else. Hence, the audience can draw its own conclusions based on the available data.

The private party room was cramped. Although Roger and Mabel managed to dance with one another, they looked as if their steps were uncomfortable and stilted. Poor Rita had to satisfy herself by eating. Though she said, “This is amazing,” as she munched on an éclair, it was obvious she was being sarcastic. The party was so boring that the dog in the corner couldn’t even stay awake!
The subjectivity of the above paragraph is obvious and changes the meaning of the article completely because the author has inserted his or her personal feelings on the party. No longer is the reader invited to interpret the scene; instead, the writer does it for him or her.
Fairness – Fairness within script writing is key to avoiding the alienation of some of your audience. For example if you were to portray a certain race or creed in a bad light without proper explanation you would immediately lose potential readers. You could also face substantial lawsuits and accusations of racism etc.
Accuracy – When writing a script one must make sure to keep his character descriptions and events accurate. If the writer fails to do so it can lead to the reader being confused and less likely to continue reading. A good way to keep up accuracy within script writing is not to backtrack yourself,  so if you state one thing make sure you keep it consistent and avoid contradicting it at a later date unless part of the overall script and story.
Balance – Balancing within a script can be difficult, the writer must make sure to keep to a balance within the story so as to not favor one character or side too much, otherwise things may become boring and the story would dry up. An example of this is the most recent season of Game of Thrones where all the bad guys have virtually won the war now, whilst some people praise the author George R.R. Martins commitment to his unconventional ‘realistic story’ others have begun to question whether his pessimism has begun to make the story stupidly unfair to the good guys within the show. As history shows not all good guys lost, he has begun to contradict his own balance by favoring one side too much.
Can you find examples online where scriptwriters/writers have been sued or had action taken against them for breaching any of the above? – Where the Matrix producers were accused of stealing the idea from a screenplay submitted by someone else. -Earlier this week, it came out that Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn and many other works, was suing his long-time business partner Connor Cochran for elder abuse, defamation, and fraud, among other charges. The papers were filed in Alameda, California, and are available online.

Yesterday, Conlan Press released a statement signed by Cochran, as well as Beagle’s children, describing the lawsuit as frivolous. The statement claims Beagle’s medical condition was deteriorating, and he was being taken advantage of and manipulated. The statement also asked that people respect the family’s privacy.

In the meantime, Connor Cochran, president of Conlan Press, has been very active on Reddit Fantasy, defending himself and his history with Beagle, and claiming that others simply don’t have all the facts. – Fox News Network, LLC, v. Penguin Group (USA) was a civil lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on August 7, 2003. Fox News Channel, the plaintiff, sought to enjoin Al Franken from using Fox’s trademark phrase “fair & balanced” in the title of his then-forthcoming book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Judge Denny Chin denied Fox’s motion for injunction on August 22, and the network dropped the suit three days later.
Bibliography: Howard, A. (2015, June 12). Lee Daniels on “empire”: “Black people hate white people writing for black people. It’s so offensive.” Retrieved June 22, 2016, from
Bibliography: Peters, D., & Press, A. A. (2015, August 23). Former politican Mark Latham offends audience with a tirade of abuse. Daily Mail. Retrieved from
Bibliography: Seleh, P. (2015, October 18). Media misrepresent “Gay Gene” study without contacting lead author. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from News,
Bibliography: Silva, C., Varandani, S., & Sim, S. (2015, January 7). Charlie Hebdo attack: The prophet Muhammad cartoons that may have caused Paris Magazine massacre [PHOTOS]. World. Retrieved from
Bibliography: 2016. (2000). Objectivity and subjectivity. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from
Bibliography: 13 things bad screenwriters commonly do. (1982). Retrieved June 22, 2016, from

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