A statute of limitations, known in civil law systems such as Quebec as a prescriptive period, is a law passed by a legislative body to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. In other words, this pertains to the extinguishing of one’s rights through inaction. In California, depending on the type of case or procedure, California’s statutes of limitations range from one year to 10 years. The point at which the clock starts ticking typically is the date of the incident or discovery of a wrong. Please consult a lawyer depending on the type of case or procedure.
For purposes of illustration, suppose you found out on January 1 2020 about a project in development that may be infringing on your rights. Using Quebec as the jurisdiction, you would have until December 31 2022 (three years) to file a claim. However, it would be harder to determine damages based on a project being developed (i.e. a show bible, treatment, script). As a creative, you are prone to speak early because you seek credit, want to contribute, and so on.
But your lawyers may advise you to hold off, until
a) the triggering event when a network actually orders the show and places some kind of monetary amount to base damages on,
Then combine that with:
b) the industry expert testimony and/or precedents.
Conceptually the burden of proof is lower as the claimant is not seeking “ownership” but rather, credit and/or compensation. This would even be akin to seeking lesser charges in a criminal case (i.e. manslaughter vs first degree murder), to increase the odds of securing a favorable judgment.
In this scenario, as a plaintiff, you can more easily estimate and claim financial damages, and advantageously, the statute of limitations (or prescription in civil systems) would actually start three years from that date, giving new meaning to the expression “that a project is stuck in development hell.”
To quote Jeff Grosso, the writer who saw Rounders and could not believe his eyes:
“all they would have had to do was give me a ’story-by’ credit. They could have gotten me for nothing. They’ll spend $10 million fighting a case where the demand is $100,000.”
As I mentioned, Hollywood is driven concurrently by Fear and Greed. Over my twenty year career, I have managed to build a great, cohesive team and lead a creative group by foreseeing problems and as an ombudsman diligently seek to resolve matters in a fair, just and sustainable manner.
When in 2018 we were developing a concept with Martin Villeneuve (brother of acclaimed director Denis), we drafted a simple agreement not only to protect him in the event he doubted our intentions, but also to protect him if a third-party wanted to cut him out.
If I ever approached a company/person and offered financing, only to then pursue a project they brought to my attention with a third party and cut out the person/party who brought me the concept, I would never hear the end of it. I’d be run out of town!
I don’t lie, steal or cheat for when judgment day comes, rarely will you be there to defend yourself. The verdict on your fate is rendered based on the collection of your good thoughts, deeds and words.
As I now support other entrepreneurs and storytellers: if one of my direct reports or entrepreneurs I invest in acted in such a manner and then shrugged it off by saying this is how the system worked, I’d summon them and dress them down so they understood this was not acceptable, or necessary:
“What do you think will happen? This is akin to meeting Crazy Joe Davola, hearing of one of his projects… and then pursuing it without him?”
Come back tomorrow for the next instalment on Depositions and the Discovery process … Meanwhile, if you want to share your experience or contact me, you can do so using this form.