You are a creative person who has found out about someone with a compelling story, and you’d like to develop a book, TV show or film based on their life. But in the middle of your excitement and creative rush, it hits you: “Maybe I need to get permission first… but how?” Here is what you need to know about Life Rights Agreements and how they can help you develop your project and minimize the risk of problems down the road.
What Are Life Rights?
The phrase “life rights” encompasses all of the personal details and characteristics that make up someone’s life, such as their image, name and experiences.
What is a Life Rights Agreement?
Simply put, a Life Rights Agreement (LRA), also called a Life Story Agreement, is an agreement that grants a person or company the right to purchase and develop someone else’s life story into some type of media. Getting permission to tell a person’s story is important, as every state recognizes a person’s “right of publicity.” This means that a person has the right to prevent unauthorized commercial use of their name, likeness and other recognizable aspects of their life.
Why do you need an LRA?
If you are the one trying to tell a story, an LRA decreases the possibility of a lawsuit in connection with your project. When a person signs a LRA, they are giving a writer, filmmaker, studio or producer permission to tell their story and promising that they will not sue for invasion of privacy, defamation or other potential claims. The agreement may also contain adaptation rights, which can help facilitate your project because you won’t need to try to go back and secure them later.
An LRA may also be beneficial to the person whose life story is going to be told. If you have a life story you believe is marketable, packaging an LRA with adaptation rights can help make it more attractive to creative professionals.
An LRA also gives you a measure of control over how your story will be told. By negotiating and working with the creative team interested in your story, you can be more certain that they know what they are doing and know more about how they are portraying you and your life.
What should an LRA include?
Overall, the LRA should address a broad range of rights, such as moral rights, assignability and the right to sue. The person receiving the life story rights should have a provision in the agreement granting exclusive rights to the story, as well as to any photographs, documents or other media related to the life story. This helps to ensure that the subject of the life story does not grant others the right to produce adaptations of their story. Other provisions could require the subject to make public appearances and participate in marketing efforts for the project. This can work well for both parties because the subject is still included and may draw attention, while the filmmaker or producer still maintains all exclusive rights to the story. Sometimes LRAs grant the subject the right to approve the project, again giving the subject a measure of control over how their story is being told.
The filmmaker or producer should be given the rights to fictionalize or change names of characters. It would also be beneficial to get releases from the subject’s family members or anyone else that might be an essential part of the project. If this is not possible, having a provision allowing the filmmaker or producer to change characters would allow them flexibility and prevent issues that could derail the entire project.
What if I can’t get one?
What if it is impossible to get a signed LRA because the subject has already passed away? In such cases, state law will determine how you proceed. In New York, the right of publicity is only for living persons. In other states, permission may have to be obtained from that person’s estate. California, for example, recognizes a continued right of publicity for deceased persons up to 70 years after they die.
How do I get an LRA?
So you are ready to move forward with your new project and getting an LRA sounds like the next logical step. Now what? If you are interested in getting an LRA, you should consult an attorney. An experienced legal professional can walk you through the terms of an agreement and advise you on your specific situation.
This article was updated by Rachel Rosado on 10/29/2020 and was originally published on 9/30/2016.
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