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Is it legal..?? (1 Viewer)

I want to write a screenplay about someone that has died. Is this legal? Lets take some examples: Can i write about Kurt Cobain? or about JF Kennedy? Is anyone going to sue me? Is it illegal?

Thank you in advance for your answers.


Senior Member
It CAN be legal. If you get the life rights of Kurt Cobain and JFK. Or you'll have to wait about 70 years after they pass before it's free game for anyone.

Now, a little more specifically, you need the rights to make the film. You can write a screenplay about anything you want...a swat team is not going to come breaking down your door. But if you want to submit it to a production company, you'll need the rights with it.

I for example, have a bio pic of Douglas Adams in my repatiore even though I have high doubts I could ever get the rights. Why? Well, it was fun to write, I totally admire this awkward guy and I think there is an audience waiting to see such a film. What do I use the script for? A writing sample to show folks that I can write. It's probably one of my best pieces of writing becuase it was a topic I was passionate about.
Oh. That good.. :shock:

OK. So for everything i write i need to get the rights of. Cool. So let's write about things that do not exist. They dont have rights! :grin:

So JFK died but he still has rights. Damn lawmakers..

And how do you get the rights of let's say JFK?

Mike C

WF Veterans
You just write it. You can't obtain rights to a person, they don't exist. If the person's living and you defame them, you stand a fair chance of a libel suit. Not so with the dead. The only time you have rights issues, I believe, is when you use a biography/autobiography as the basis for your work; you may need to obtain rights to that, and you do that by negotiation with the author, or more likely, the author's agent or estate.

It's no different to writing a biography. It can be unauthorised, and written without the subject's consent. Happens all the time.
Thank you very much Mike C. That's the answer i was looking for. 8)
So im going to start writing my JFK screenplay..

Linton Robinson

Senior Member
In the U.S. you could end up being sued by survivors. (In the U.S. you can get sued just for standing there)

You write a book about Cobain's adventures as a male prostitute. Courtney Love decides that you demeaning his name cuts into sales of her memorabilia and T-shirt business. So she sues. Will she win? In the U.S. it's always a possibility.

Are you waiting until Doug Adams dies to publish his biopic? Is it called "A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Afterlife"?

Mike C

WF Veterans
Douglas Adams is dead.

On the litigation front, many "Only in America..." stories are about the US addiction to suing the pants off each other. A trend that's growing, slowly, here.

Incidentally I see that the driving instructor who appeared in the Borat movie is suing it's makers for $400,000 for 'emotional harm'.

I presume that means that everyone's laughing at him.

Linton Robinson

Senior Member
Actually, with Courtney, legal action is the BEST case scenario.

Adams is dead??? Whoa, that's a shame. He might have been the last major humor novelist in an industry that is afraid to take a chance on people laughing anymore.


Senior Member
Life Rights I googled this as a "sample" life rights contract, as you can see, some of the points in the contract could scare people away. As for people who are dead, you would most definitely get a similar contract signed by the family saying, nope, I won't sue you or the company that makes this movie.

Mike C is right that the person is dead and they don't have the same rights as a living subject, but you also might find yourself using other people who are still alive as other characters in your script and they might have some issues as well. And we Americans do love our lawsuits.

Trust me, the lawsuit would not go to you, it would go to the movie company so they can bleed out oodles of money. And that would get in the way of their seriously large executive salaries. They aren't going to risk a lawsuit. This is why you need to have the rights before the script will be seriously considered anywhere.

And yeah, Adams passed away from a heart attack a couple of years ago which made me terribly sad. I so wanted to meet him in person once in my life. Instead, all I have is an autographed book from him I found in a book shop that says: To Bernie.