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Friday, September 21, 2012

Q. Can a writer get sued for a script he sold if the movie gets made and other people say they were part of the “executive team” but never got paid? 
If others who weren’t part of production can prove via emails, text messages, phone calls, etc... that they were at one point “working” on getting this movie done, does the writer have to worry about being sued? 
Or is it mainly the producers of the movie who have to worry about that? Would the writer be safe simply because he’s the writer and not the producer? 
Do writers EVER have to worry about being sued?
Here's my understanding. Bear in mind I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

In general, any idiot can sue if he can find a lawyer willing to take his money. However the case will usually get thrown out of court if it has no merit.

A writer can be sued successfully by someone who claims he stole their script. Not their ideas, but the representation of their ideas:  dialog, characters, plot. If you were to write a sequel to CHINATOWN using any of the original characters, and that script got shot, whoever owns CHINATOWN would sue you.

A writer can also be sued if his script defames someone, or invades their privacy. If you were to write a script about my private life, and it got made, I could sue. That's why you want to be covered on the producer's E&O insurance policy.

If someone "works on" getting your script made, even if he gives you "ideas" or "notes," that doesn't give him any rights, unless he also options your script.  Legally this could be an oral agreement, but it is very hard to prove that an oral agreement exists if the parties disagree. There's a sample option agreement in my book CRAFTY SCREENWRITING. He gives you money; you sign a piece of paper saying he has the option to buy the rights to your script.

If a producer buys or options your script, and screws someone he's working with, that's not your look-out. The third party doesn't have a contract with you. If I rent you my car, and you crash it into a store, the store can't sue me.

TL;DR:  If you didn't sign anything, and you didn't steal anything, you're probably not going to get sued. 

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