Beitchman & Zekian Blog

Legal Information in Plain English

Archive for November, 2010

Debt Settlement

With the economy lagging and many people experiencing long bouts of unemployment, it is no surprise that consumer priorities have changed.  Many people have had to deal with a reduction in salary or wages, a wage increase freeze, or unemployment altogether.  This, however, does not mean that bills stop showing up in the mail.

Many consumers need a reprieve – maybe nothing as drastic as a bankruptcy filing, but perhaps just a reduction in their debt so that it is more manageable.  You may decide to go with a debt consolidation office, however this is not always the best method as the account may get charged off and/or a negative reporting made to your credit report.

Some consumers seek to settle the matter before it gets to a collection agency; this means dealing with the bank that extended the credit in order to convince them to take less money to settle the account.  This is not always easy and, from time to time, you will have to deal with an unscrupulous agent who promises one thing and then changes the terms or conditions the settlement on a lump sum or higher payment.

To get through the slump, you may want to consult an attorney to assist you with the settlement negotiations.  Although attorney’s fees are inevitable for the service,  when $30,000 of debt settles for anything less than the total amount, paying someone to make sure it is done right seems like a good trade off.

Protecting Your Work – What Copyright Registration Can Do For You

I have represented writers for a very long time in different capacities – at an agency, as a manager, and most recently, as a lawyer.  The one thing that always comes up is whether they should copyright their work and my answer is always, “Absolutely!”

There are 2 kinds of copyright protection – common law and statutory copyright.  Common law states that any work created is immediately protected by copyright laws and the creator is the sole owner.  Thus, if the work is infringed upon, the creator can demand that the infringer cease and desist their infringing use.  Damages may be awarded, but only the creator’s actual damages.

Now, many writers ask me about the “poor man’s copyright:” basically mailing yourself your screenplay, manuscript, or artwork to get a postmark date on it and keeping it in the sealed envelope.  This is a good idea, but it will only prove that your work existed as of the date postmarked.  The above common law copyright will still apply.

Another thing that I get asked is whether registering your screenplay with the Writer’s Guild affords any protection.  The answer is yes and no.  Registration with the WGA does not provide you with any legal protection per se – it is not a law.  It can, however, provide you with confirmation of the date the work was created and if you are submitting your work, it may make producers more comfortable in taking a submission.

The statutory copyright is much more effective in that the Copyright Act provides for certain statutory damages.  It also provides elements which help prove infringement (or protects against it, depending on what side of the infringement you are on).

A statutory copyright registration is fairly inexpensive in relation to the protection it provides and I suggest that clients register their works as soon as possible.  But, if you cannot afford it, or did not file the registration and your work is being infringed upon, you may still have a viable case for copyright infringement.

Also bear in mind that registering your script with the WGA provides a 5 year registration and you must renew it every 5 years.  A copyright is good for the life of the author plus 75 years.  Additionally, while this post focused on scripts and written works, all kinds of works can be protected from statutes to computer code, drawings to jewelry or fabric designs.

If you have a work that you would like to protect, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100 and our intellectual property associates can assist you in order to register your work or evaluate your infringement case.