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How do you secure the rights for a remake of an old movie?

By Robert L. Seigel

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You would check the copyright notice on the original film; however, that is just a starting point since the rights to the original film may have been transferred one or more times over the years. Ultimately, you would have to conduct or commission a copyright search from the U.S. Copyright Office directly or through a law firm or a copyright search service such as Thompson & Thompson to receive the information required to determine the chain of title on the rights to the original film.

In addition, you would have to check with the current owner of the rights in and to the original film to determine if it or someone else has the right to remake the original film since some distributors only have the rights to the original film itself especially if the distributor acquired the rights to the film from a third party and it did not finance and produce the film itself.

Furthermore, you would have to determine who owns the rights to the screenplay of the original film since you probably would be using some, many or all of the elements of the screenplay to the original film.

If the screenplay for the original film is based on a pre-existing work, then you would have to determine who holds the motion picture and television rights to the pre-existing work which served as the basis for the screenplay for the original film. The owner of the rights to the original film may hold such motion picture and television rights to make a remake of the original film or such rights may have reverted to the original rights holder of the underlying work under the terms of the agreement between the original holder of the motion picture and television rights in and to the film and the producer or the distributor of the original film.

As part of your due diligence, you should request the documents which represent the chain of title to the original film and its screenplay from current owners of the rights to the original film and its screenplay. Such confidential information as payment amounts could be redacted or blackened in the copies of such documents sent to you.

If the original film’s rights holder is a person or entity in a country outside the U.S., then the copyright laws of such countries are also a factor which you may have to consider in determining any chain of title issues.

About Robert L. Seigel

Robert L. Seigel ([email protected]) is a NYC entertainment attorney and a partner in the Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP law firm which specializes in the representation of clients in the entertainment and media areas.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act or rely on such information without seeking the advice of an attorney and receiving counsel based on your particular facts and circumstances. Many of the legal principles mentioned might be subject to exceptions and qualifications, which are not necessarily noted in the answers. Furthermore, laws are subject to change and vary by jurisdiction.
Screenwriting Article by Robert L. Seigel

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