Actually, the term "life story rights" is a bit of a misnomer. In reality, what you will be acquiring is a collection of rights and releases from liability. Typically, a Life Rights Consent Agreement grants to the filmmaker the following rights:
• The right to portray a particular person's life in whole or in part.
• The right to fictionalize or modify that person's life story.
• The right (and sometimes the obligation) to use pseudonyms for people and places portrayed in the life story.
• The copyright to or license to use any accounts of that person's life story (this may be limited by pre-existing literary works, like biographies, based upon the life story).
In addition to the grant of rights, the Life Rights Consent Agreement should also include clauses, called releases and waivers, which say that the person granting the life rights (the "Grantor") will not sue the filmmaker for any of the following:
• Infringement of the right of publicity. (See p. 272.)
• Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
• Any other claim arising from the granted rights.
In addition to the previously listed causes of action, plaintiffs who have sued motion picture companies over life story issues have asserted claims for false advertising, false endorsement, commercial disparagement, and unjust enrichment. This is why it is critical for the producer to secure the release of:"any claim or cause of action whatsoever arising from the use of the granted rights or portrayal of my likeness or life story."
Although it is true that the First Amendment may provide a solid foundation for defending against many of these claims, the point is to avoid the lawsuit altogether. Furthermore, your E&O insurance policy will probably demand it.
EXAMPLE: KRUSHER KRABB—ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Pedro the Producer wants to shoot a biography of wrestling superstar Krusher Krabb, the only one-armed professional wrestler ever to be inducted into the Schenectady Wrestling Hall of Fame. Pedro first approaches Krusher for his life story rights, but is turned down. He goes ahead with the movie anyway, excited to tell Krusher's uplifting triumph over adversity story. Trying to make his biography as compelling as possible, he decides to fictionalize a portion of Krusher's story.
In real life, Krusher lost his arm in a car accident; In Pedro's version, however, Krusher's limb is devoured by an alligator during a wrestling match in the gator farm. Because Krusher's 40-year marriage to his high school sweetheart is motion-picture monotony, Pedro creates a scene in which Krusher has an illicit affair with his trainer's wife—an event that never happened in real life.
Eager to contrast Krusher at his physical peak with the withered old man whom he has become, Pedro secretly photographs Krusher at home, struggling to bathe himself.
After screening the rough cut for his film with several licensing agents, Pedro strikes a deal with a toy manufacturing company to produce Krusher action figures.
Needless to say, Krusher is livid. He can sue Pedro for invasion of privacy (both false light and intrusion upon seclusion), libel, false endorsement, and misappropriation of the right of publicity.
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