Amazon: Win Money! Get Your Movie Made! Forfeit Your Rights!!

Posted by on Wednesday November 17, 2010 | Copyright/Legal

Online mega-retailer Amazon is calling all aspiring screen writers and film directors  to submit their screen plays and productions for cash prizes in monthly contests. The catch? Amazon can rent, sell, license and otherwise distribute the works without sharing the proceeds. But the rights transfer terms are buried deep in the fine print.

The crowd-sourcing initiative is called Amazon Studios, which is holding a monthly contest with cash prizes to encourage submissions. Amazon Studios will show the winning projects to Warner Bros. Pictures “for possible consideration as theatrical feature films.” Or, as Amazon Studios boils it all down in their advertising: “Win money. Get Noticed. Get your movie made.”

Amazon says it will give out two $20,000 awards for the best scripts it receives each month, and $100,000 to the director of the best movie that’s at least 70 minutes long.

But the company isn’t up front about rights transfer, which isn’t mentioned in the contest rules. Instead, it’s buried inside a “development agreement” that the contest rules mention in passing.

The development agreement is written in convoluted legalese. But here’s what is says, in a nutshell: Whenever you submit an original work–screenplay or movie–you grant Amazon a non-exclusive license to sell, rent, stream, copy, or transfer that work to third parties forever, without any compensation. For the first 18 months, Amazon has the exclusive right to do all that, plus the option to make revisions of your work–by turning it into a movie for theatrical release, say. If they decide to exercise that option, they will pay you $200,000. But that’s all you get, unless the movie grosses at least $60,000,000 at the box office. For that, you’d get a $400,000 bonus payment, or 0.6 percent.

And one last thing: if someone else sees your original work on Amazon’s site, makes a revision of it, and submits that revision to another Amazon contest, Amazon owns the revision free and clear. “It would just be too complicated to divide up rights between contributors of revisions,” Amazon explains in the development agreement.

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