Hello, my creative friends!
In this article, we are decoding a document that may give sleepless nights to the creative community! Yes, I am talking about release forms. Generally, the Production houses make you sign a release form/NDA when you pitch your work to them. The purpose of this document is to protect the production house from unsolicited submissions. A release form states that you shall not sue the production house or be entitled to any compensation if there is any generic similarity between your work and any work independently developed by the production house.
Fair enough! We understand several writers may co-incidentally pitch the same story idea to the producer, on which it might be independently working. Hence, a producer intends to protect itself from the unfounded claim of copyright infringement. However, the problem arises when production houses start using the release form as a weapon to defraud and exploit the creators. They include several unwarranted clauses that are not protective but exploitative. Let’s explore those clauses and understand how to deal with them.
a) Non-confidential clause: "My submission of the Submission Material to you is voluntary, not solicited by you, and not in confidence." Have you come across a clause like this in a release form? I shall be surprised if your answer is negative! As the clause like this is most frequent. Production houses put such a clause to save themselves from the breach of confidentiality claim. Never accept the clause like this. It is important to note that any unpublished work is the 'confidential information' of its creator. Hence, any person receiving that work should maintain its confidentiality. If you receive a release form with a similar clause, that’s a red flag! Negotiate hard to amend such clause. Make your intention clear that you are pitching your work in confidence and you are not going to settle for the less!
b) Identical/duplicate/substantial similarity: I have observed that in most of the release forms, there is a clause that the author cannot sue the production house if in the future they come up with any content that is identical/duplicate or substantially similar to the submission. Wait! An author can release a production house from liabilities only in case there are general similarities. However, if a production house has produced something identical/substantially similar to a submission made by an author, it shall amount to the unauthorized use of the content submitted by the author. In such a case, the author should have all the rights to take legal action. Hence, the author must not sign a clause that releases the production house from liabilities in case of unauthorized use of the submission.
c) Exclusive rights: Another red flag in a release form is the clause related to the grant of exclusive rights. Such a clause is read as, ‘If we are satisfied with the Submission Material, we shall have the option and you shall grant us the exclusive right to pitch the Submission Material to any number of platforms/production houses, as we may deem fit.’ Look! this deal is not favorable to the author. The production house without paying any consideration to the author is taking an exclusive right to pitch. This means only the production house can pitch the work. This is a strange situation where an author has given the production house an exclusive right to distribute his/her work without receiving anything in return. Hence, please say no to such a deceptive clause! Do run away from such a deal! If a production house likes your concept and wants an exclusive right to pitch, you should negotiate with them to sign an option agreement. If you are interested in knowing the option agreement and its application in detail, you should write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The objective of this article is to make you aware of the deceptive clauses of a release form. You should not blindly sign a document without understanding its probable impact. Read this article a few times and understand the red flags. Next time, whenever you are signing any release form, beware of these red flags. If you find this article informative, please share it with your group. The only way out is awareness. Hence, be aware and make aware!