Dinah Perez offers entertainment legal services in the areas of film, TV, music, new media, publishing, stage, copyright and trademark law. She represents and provides counsel to individuals and companies. Follow Dinah on Twitter @DinahPerezLaw
If you are not represented by an agent or manager, it is likely that you will be required to sign a “Submission Release” when you ask to submit your screenplay to a producer or studio/network. A “Submission Release” is a written agreement whereby you relieve the recipient of your screenplay from liability should he/she use any of the content in your screenplay that is not protected by copyright, such as your idea or the public domain material incorporated therein. It also relieves the producer and studio/network of the obligation to pay you if it independently creates material similar to yours, or comes by it from an independent source. Furthermore, the Submission Release also states that the recipient will pay you fair market value if they use of your screenplay, or any portion thereof that is protected by copyright. The Submission Release is going to override any oral agreement you have made to the contrary with the producer once you sign it.
As onerous as Submission Releases are, I understand that producers and studios/networks require them as a form of protection against lawsuits that may or may not be warranted. You can pay an attorney to explain the Submission Release to you, but it is unlikely that the attorney will be able to convince the producer to revise it. You might be tempted to throw caution to the wind and sign the Submission Release if you are unrepresented by an agent or manager. I recommend that you ask the producer if he/she will accept an attorney submission instead. Your lawyer can make the submission for you if the producer agrees to accept it. If not, then I suggest that you continue pounding doors until you do find an agent or manager willing to represent you. I know that it is difficult to walk away from what you may think is your only opportunity, but you have to be patient unless you are willing to risk your screenplay.
Note that agents will also require that you sign a Submission Release as a condition to reading your screenplay. You cannot submit otherwise. Be aware that agents can share your screenplay with other agents and the agency’s clients with impunity once you sign the Submission Release. You might try having your manager make the submission, or asking if the agent will accept an attorney submission. Otherwise, you will have to take the risk if you want to the agent to consider representing you.
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