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Talentville Bar & Grill : Ask the Expert
"not burdened by third party interests"

William Parsons
Posted March 2, 2014 6:13 AM
Hi, all!  Let me get your advice on something: I've written a short screenplay that I want to enter into some contests, but it includes substantial quotes from three plays -- one is by the Bard, so that's not a problem, being in the public domain; but the other two plays are Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) and Gilsenan's dramatization (1983) of Judith Guest's novel Ordinary People.  Whose responsibility is it to secure permission to use those quotes: mine, the contest holders', or any future producer who options it?  Do you think my not already having permission to use the quotes will hamper (or, even, disqualify) my short's chances of placing in any of the contests I'm considering?  Is that what is meant by the phrase "not burdened by third-party interests" found in some contest rules?  Thanks in advance, Kerry

Ward Bower
Posted March 2, 2014 9:25 PM


Never be shy about asking them to clarify the rules and any confusing/vague particulars of their contest. Make sure you completely understand what rights to your work you are assigning them just by submitting. Talking about you amazon...

Make sure you understand what the actual prize is too. If it's a cash prize, look for details on payment schedules and/or "special conditions" that they love to throw in that diminish the actual value, or make it difficult and/or costly to redeem. Be wary of generic "win a meeting" type prizes. Most are scams outside of the big name contests.

"Not burdened by third party interests." This is a very generalized legal statement that basically requires that you own and/or control the rights to the work free and clear of any claims. Hence, someone isn't going to claim co-authorship after it's sold, or that you plagiarized someone else's work...cough-Labeouf-cough.  Or that you didn't adapt a copywrited novel or play that you don't have the rights to on a spec.

I don't know enough about your short to even make a guess if you need to secure any rights. You can have characters talk about their favorite plays and throw quotes at each other in banter. But if they were to "perform" parts of the play within your story (say your characters are producing a "death of a salesman" play within your movie) then it gets hazier. If it was a parody, you would have more leeway. Obviously, if you're using film or audio clips from any material you didn't produce and /or own and isn't in public domain, then you need expressed, written permission from the owner.

Actual ownership rights can be tough to determine at times between artists/production, companies and the various people who may have legal claims and liens against said artists and/or production companies (ex wives, bratty kids etc). Thus you can find yourself trying to negotiate with multiple, conflicting parties for the use of some random song or video clip from the seventies.

With an abundance of original, legal hassle-free material out on the spec market, I would assume most producers would avoid material with potential legal problems. Hence, writing fan fiction is fun, but don't expect to get any use of it outside of a writing sample. (Yes, there are some contests geared for fan fiction, and some tv shows encourage people to send stuff)...

I did a lot of research on this for a project awhile back. A classical painting was a focal point for a script and I wanted to make sure I could show it in the story. The painting was old enough to be in public domain (in certain countries anyway) However, pictures of the painting could be considered the copywrited material of the photographer who took the picture if any unique artistic merit could be shown by the photographer.

I hope this helped. it was nice to get a second use out of this info.