If someone is trying to sell a film based on my deceased husband's stories does the estate have any rights? 9 Answers as of August 07, 2015

This past March, my husband passed away. Before his death, he was involved with a film maker who took interest in his life and stories. He approached my husband about helping him develop scripts and eventually making films using my husband's past as the basis for many of the plot points. My husband allowed this man to video tape him telling his stories with the understanding that they were creative partners.

The filmmaker got a copyright in his own name for the video. He is now using my husband's death and image to try to raise money from people so that the film can be made. He admits that he is selling my husbands stories, not his own. It is very evident to anybody who has viewed the videos that my husband was a creative author. An such, would he have had any rights as a co-author to the video without having a copyright? If it was proved that the new script was based almost entirely on the stories my husband told on the video, would the estate need to prove any ownership of the original video to allow the estate to make a claim on the script, movie, etc..?

Please tell me how move forward and get this film maker to negotiate with the estate before he can sell any script, or creative work based on my husband's stories. My probate attorney said that anything my husband owned belongs to me as the surviving spouse and beneficiary of his estate.

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Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
While they are your husband's stories, it is the filmmaker who created the actual work (the videos) and owns the copyright on it. Sometimes the parties sign an agreement in advance that the interviewee will receive a sum of money or other payment for sharing the stories and allowing them to be the basis of a film or book. However, the rights to one's own story don't usually survive one's death. There are a couple of ways to handle this problem are there any written records that would prove your husband and the filmmaker's agreement to co-author? Any letters or e-mails or tweets? Did your husband provide any documents, old photos, memorabilia, etc. for the filmmaker to use? An attorney experienced in entertainment or intellectual property law can help you with this.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 8/7/2015
Durham Jones & Pinegar | Erven Nelson
Yes, you can sue to stop the film or get a portion of the profits. I can help you find a good lawyer who specializes in this kind of case.
Answer Applies to: Nevada
Replied: 8/6/2015
Law Offices of Robert H. Glorch | Jeffrey R. Gottlieb
Very interesting. First, if you have a probate attorney, you should discuss this with your attorney and get your advice from your attorney. That said, in addition to the copyright angle, you might consider taking a look at the Illinois Right of Publicity Act at 765 ILCS 1075. How to move forward? Perhaps send a cease and desist or demand letter? If ignore, perhaps a probate citation? Again, work with your probate attorney on all of this.
Answer Applies to: Illinois
Replied: 8/6/2015
Law Office of Pamela Braynon | Pamela Y. Braynon
This may be a hard one since the filmmaker secured a copyright for the video. I suggest you get a mediator to negotiate with the filmmaker and you both agree that the result of the mediation is how either of you would proceed. If that doesn?t work you can file a suit against the filmmaker since he?s going to use the video that your husband is telling the story on. Its hard to say what the outcome will be.
Answer Applies to: Florida
Replied: 8/6/2015
James Oberholtzer, Attorney at Law
James Oberholtzer, Attorney at Law | James Oberholtzer
IN the USA copyright attaches upon the creation of a work. If your father was not an employee of the filmmaker or a partner under a partnership, then, he is the author of these stories and owned them. When he died, his estate became the owner. Your father also had a right to own his image and his reputation. The estate also owns these. Hire an estates attorney who knows about intellectual property.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 8/6/2015
    Minor, Bandonis and Haggerty, P.C.
    Minor, Bandonis and Haggerty, P.C. | Brian Haggerty
    Yes, your husband had copyright in his stories as soon as he recorded them in some reproducible fashion wrote them down, wrote outlines or notes. This is very specialized stuff. Contact a copyright attorney. Do so fast, as there will be time limits on any claim.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 8/6/2015
    Law Office Of Victor Waid
    Law Office Of Victor Waid | Victor Waid
    Seek a referral from your probate attorney to a litigator who is familiar with copy right suits, and so forth to sue on your behalf for the value of your inherited rights to your former husband's stories and subsequent videos.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/6/2015
    Wellerstein Law Group, P.C.
    Wellerstein Law Group, P.C. | Elisha Wellerstein
    The estate would have to sue to prove that they are 50% owners of the project. This would be costly and time consuming and you should only pursue this if you are willing to see it to the end. You need more of a contracts attorney to handle the litigation and not an estate attorney.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 8/6/2015
    Goldsmith & Guymon
    Goldsmith & Guymon | Dara Goldsmith
    This is something you should be discussing with your probate attorney. You have counsel. Whether your attorney needs to associate another attorney is something you should discuss with him/her. This is opinion is solely based upon the facts presented in the inquiry. Additional facts may be important and may change the analysis. If you are uncertain, seek legal counsel. We are not your attorneys. This answer is being offered to assist you in determining if you need to retain legal counsel to assist you, not to resolve your issue through an email inquiry.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 8/6/2015
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