Real life stories are often produced with the acknowledgment and encouragement of their subjects, who are compensated in exchange for entering into what are known as life rights agreements. However, obtaining permission from every real person involved in the making of the work may not be feasible. In the article “Rights to Life,” published in the Entertainment Law issue of Los Angeles Lawyer, Lee Brenner and Cathy Lee discuss whether life rights agreements are necessary in film adaptations.
When purchasing life rights, a producer is purchasing permission to use the person’s story without risk of claims of libel, invasion of privacy, or misappropriation of character. While these are practical reasons to purchase life rights, if the person is a public figure, is often featured in the media and demands unreasonable fees, or is deceased, life rights may be unnecessary from a legal standpoint.
In the article, Lee and Cathy expound on California’s right to publicity, including common law publicity claims, the First Amendment right to free expression, what qualifies as transformative use and how vital each factor is when purchasing life rights. Ultimately, if the risks are low, producers can avoid paying exorbitant cost for unnecessary life rights.