I want to write a feature film script about this person's life.
There are many scholarly articles and news articles on this person, however a film has not yet been made about this person. Do I have to buy rights if I use only the articles and reference the sources?
I've only ever written original scripts, so the concept of "life story rights" is new to me.
My colleagues have offered very good insights to which I agree. I will only add what I think is a summary of the issue here.
The concept of "life story rights" gets a bit confused and chewy. In general, you are free to write or make a film about anything or anyone you want. You do not need or require any permission to do that. There are countless examples of unauthorized biographies. The problem with not getting rights so to speak is that many publishers or studios, etc. will not support a work about a famous person when that person or their estate have not signed on to the project or have refused any participation. Without this support you also run the risk of being sued for defamation if for example they can show that you presented them in a false light or have fabricated events, etc. So obtaining exclusive life rights is always a good idea. Now of course the farther we go back in time the less likely this will be possible or practicable. So 100 years ago is quite a long time indeed.
Further, how you use resources to document your work greatly depends. You are not obligated to cite or give credit for factual information. This is not an academic work, but you may do that to lend credibility.
Given that these issues can get complicated and you are likely to have a number of legal questions, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
You wouldn't need a life story rights for information that is in the public domain. With that said, distributors and production companies are often very cautious and might require such an agreement to avoid any chance of a lawsuit regarding someone's publicity and privacy rights. Moreover, a life story rights agreement is often valuable because the person agrees that he or she will work with you exclusively on the story (e.g., providing consultation, photos, etc.).
Also, make sure you're not taking too much from one source. Then, you may be in a situation where you're infringing upon someone's copyright.
You may want to discuss with counsel before moving forward.
Personality rights and publicity rights are a matter of state law. While most states recognize such rights, they usually include provisions under which the rights expire. Since this is a state law-specific question, you should consult with an entertainment attorney who is licensed in Louisiana.
The response by Bryan Bockhop is given for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. It does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader and it may not be relied upon any person reading the response. One should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to this inquiry.
The copyright interest for authorship regarding a person who died more than 100 years ago may have expried. See Intellectual Property counsel regarding remaining copyright ownership and the limitations on your use.
My comments have been made without discussion. An attorney client relationship has not been established. There may be conflicts which prohibit my providing you with specific legal guidance. Any contact with you beyond these few general words will start with a disclosure of opposing parties so that a conflict check can be made. You should discuss with an attorney.
In general, in Louisiana, there are no publicity rights. This lack of protection is tempered by a tort cause of action for public disclosure of private facts. However, this cause of action should have already prescribed. Essentially, there are probably no "life story rights" to buy....
That said, you may need to license the secondary sources you use, depending on how you use them, of course. It might be worth it to discuss your goals with an intellectual property attorney and make sure that you are mitigating any legal risks.
Good luck with the script!
In Louisiana, the publicity rights for a person essentially expire with the person's death. The corresponding protection for you is that any possible defamation issues also are cut off as one cannot defame the dead. Using other people's copyrighted work and research will get you into trouble. (Ask Mr. Spielberg about the movie Amistad). Anything that is in the public domain is fair game but you need to determine what is in the public domain. I've dealt with this issue before for clients and it can become tricky.
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on their profile in addition to the information we collect from state bar associations and other organizations that license legal professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do not.What determines Avvo Rating?Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, educationLegal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awardsLegal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagementsDiscipline