Legal training for filmmakers & creators

Are you planning to make a biopic? Know your rules!

Are you planning to make a biopic? Know your rules!

Bollywood is witnessing the biopic era these days. We have seen several blockbuster biopics like Super 30, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Mary Kom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Dangal, etc. Recently, we have just watched the biopic of Mathematics genius Ms. Shakuntala Devi. We are eagerly waiting for the upcoming biopics like Thalaivi, Gunjan Saxena, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Sardar Udham Singh and this list shall go on. It shall not be exaggerating to say that biopic is the ‘hot cake’ in the film industry. You may be also planning to write a script or make a film on a real-life personality. If so, you should be aware of the legal aspect of the same. In this article, we are going to explore the importance of ‘life right agreements’ to make a biopic.

We know that copyright does not protect facts and life events. This means a person does not have copyright over his/her life. The life event of a person is part of the public domain. Then, why do we need any permission from the person to make his/her biopic? Legally, there is no requirement to take any permission under copyright laws. However, there can be other issues with the same. The concerned person can sue us for the breach of privacy or defamation if we make an unauthorized biopic. Hence, it is advisable to take due permission from the concerned person before making his/her biopic.

We can take the authorization of the legal heir in case we are making a biopic of a deceased person. For example, the producers of the film ‘Shakuntala Devi’ must have taken the due permission of Ms. Anupama Banerjee, the daughter of late Mathematics genius.. Executing a life right agreement is the best way to take authorization from the concerned person. Now, if you are planning to sign a life right agreement, you should keep the following crucial points in mind.

1. You should negotiate for an option agreement: Suppose, you want to write a script/make a film on the life of a person. However, you do not have adequate money to pay the purchase price. You are also not sure whether you shall be able to sell the biopic to a producer or a platform. In such a case, you can get an option period from the personality by paying partial amount. In this option period, you can develop your pitch bible and find a producer/financier/ commissioning platform to make the biopic. Subsequently, you can exercise your option and acquire life rights. Hence, you have to make the remaining payments at this stage when you have a financier/producer in hand.

2. Define your rights: In the life rights agreement, you need to elaborately define your rights. For example, you should have an exclusive right to create scripts and audiovisual contents based on the life events of that personality. You should have the right to economically exploit the same in all modes, medium, formats, and languages. Further, you should have the right to assign the same to other parties. Suppose, Sony Pictures Networks India has acquired the life rights of Late Shakuntala Devi. It should have the right to assign the life right in the favor of the commissioning platform Amazon Prime!

3. Secure the creativity freedom: You should have the full creative freedom to depict and fictionalize an event or character as well as choose a perception. I shall again take an example from the film Shakuntala Devi. Her life was full of interesting elements. Hence, there can be several perspectives to make her biopic. If I were a producer, I would like to picture in detail her growth as a woman blessed with incredible talent and the obstacles she faced. Further, I would have loved to explore the events that generated her interest in astrology and homosexuality. However, the producer of the film touched these elements superficially and focused more on the relationship of Shakuntala Devi with her daughter. This is called the difference in perception. Hence, if you are writing a biopic you should have creative freedom.

4. Consultation clause: The consultation clause is crucial in a life right agreement. The personality should give you consultation sessions. In these sessions, you can sit together with her to understand the incidents, situations, and events of her life together with her observation and reaction towards the same. The personality can also provide you the related documents, photographs and introduce you to other crucial people in her life. Hence, you shall have a lot of information that may not be there in the public domain. It shall make the biopic more compelling!

5. Always keep a release clause: In the release clause, the personality should exempt you from any future claim like the breach of privacy or defamation or slander or any copyright infringements. It shall save you from any such future litigation that you might have faced in case you have not executed a life right agreement.

These are a few basic and crucial clauses in a life right agreement. I wrote this article is to give you a brief idea about such an agreement. Please note that a life right agreement is very comprehensive in nature. Therefore, you must consult an experienced media and entertainment lawyer in case you are planning to draft/sign any such agreement.

Friends, after watching the film Shakuntala Devi, I got excited to write this article. I hope after reading this article your creative mind shall get inspired to make interesting biopics!!!

Do comment if you have a query!

Happy learning…

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