Creative Rights of Writers
By Ron Suppa
~~ Question by Melana: 'I've read a lot of articles in the trades about battles between screenwriters and directors and/or producers (and sometimes actors) about changes in the script. Can you tell me how much control can a writer expect to have once a script has been submitted? And what about rewrites? Does a writer always have to go along with the changes requested? Can you ever say 'No?' If you disagree with the changes, do you have any recourse?' Melana, Montclair, NJ
~~ Ron Suppa responds: The long and the short of it is this: the author of a screenplay owns and controls 100% of all rights that attach to that screenplay up until that author options, sells or otherwise contractually bargains away any or all of those rights.
You give up none of those rights during the ordinary submission process unless you agree to somehow limit or bargain away certain rights as part of the submission (for example, by giving a company -- not an agency -- an exclusive window of opportunity to shop those rights in search of a deal).
Conversely, the sole control and ownership of your property ends with any agreement that contractually bargains away any or all of the rights to your screenplay. Once you option or sell the motion picture, television and allied rights to your work, you have surrendered control of the screenplay. Any purchaser of those rights, absent specified contractual or Writers Guild restrictions, can treat your screenplay as their property, to do with as they please, including hiring other writers to perform writing services on that script. If the author is a member of the Writers Guild, certain rights are 'separated' out and transferred back to the author of an original work, including the right to perform the first rewrite.
Generally, the day you sell your screenplay is the day you must learn to let it go. Further rewrites and changes to your work will be out of your hands. Unless you have contractual guarantees to the contrary (which are exceedingly rare) you will have no right to say 'no' and no recourse with respect to changes to your work with which you may disagree. If such changes are truly abhorrent to you -- to the degree that you believe the final work no longer represents your authorship -- you may choose to sue to request that your name be
removed from the credits as author of the work and that a pseudonym be used in its place.