Sometimes its just as simple as “put it in writing.” Harvey Weinstein, the legendary producer and co-founder of Weinstein Co. has suffered a substantial setback in series of state and federal cases over rights to “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire.” Weinstein Co. claims it bought the film just days before Precious’ agent John Sloss announced it had been sold to rival production company Lionsgate. Weistein filed suit over the dispute, using noted entertainment lawyers Bert Fields and David Boise. The trouble? Well, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Weinstein Co. did not have a valid legal claim to distribute the film because there was never a valid copyright transfer — transfers of copyrights must be in writing.
The negotiations, which were purportedly conducted mostely through late night e-mails, never culminated in an agreement, only oral statements — a fact admitted to by Weinstein Co. Judge Buchwald wrote: “A signed writing is required to effectuate a transfer of a copyright ownership. To the extent that [Weinstein Co.] alleged a purely oral agreement for the exclusive licensing rights to [‘Precious’], that claim clearly fails as a matter of law.”
This type of scenario is not particularly unusual. Sloss is motivated to get the best deal possible. With two major production companies in the running, Sloss likely played both companies against each other until he reached the terms he and his clients had been seeking. Weinstein Co. clearly wanted this movie, but copyrights do not work under ordinary contract rules. Copyright transfers are required to be in writing, regardless of any evidence of an agreement which might be shown through e-mails or other evidence. Put it in writing as often you can, especially in fast moving deals such as the one for Precious.