Legal and Ethical Issues that concern Script Writers
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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):
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.
http://www.jimchines.com/2015/12/peter-beagle-sues-conlan-press/ -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.