PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to give away your rights across the universe for perpetuity

A friend on the Yale listserv passed this along to me. Heh, heh.

Extracts from
Lawyerese Goes Galactic as Contracts Try to Master the Universe
From Stage to Pickle Shop, These Terms Cover All Rights for All Time in All Worlds

By Dionne Searcey and James R. Hagerty for the Wall Street Journal

Decked out in sequined black and gold dresses, Anne Harrison and the other women in her Bulgarian folk-singing group were lined up to try out for NBC's "America's Got Talent" TV show when they noticed peculiar wording in the release papers they were asked to sign.

Any of their actions that day last February, the contract said, could be "edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity."

She and the other singers, many of whom are librarians in the Washington, D.C., area, briefly contemplated whether they should give away the rights to hurtling their images and voices across the galaxies forever. Then, like thousands of other contestants, they signed their names.

Experts in contract drafting say lawyers are trying to ensure that with the proliferation of new outlets ... they cover all possible venues from which their clients can derive income, even those in outer space.

"These days there is an enormous amount of concern about how rights get appropriated," he said. "Paranoia is paramount."

The space and time continuum has extended to other realms outside the arts, including pickles. A 189-word sentence in a September agreement of Denver-based Spicy Pickle Franchising Inc. ... unconditionally releases Spicy Pickle from all claims "from the beginning of time" until the date of the agreement. "We're trying to figure out how to cover every possible base as quickly as possible ... When you start at the beginning of time, that is pretty clear."

James O'Toole recently signed ... a release form for WQED ... which allows the TV station to make use of "any incidents" of his life and reproduce his image or voice "throughout the universe in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereinafter devised."

Mr. O'Toole, who says he didn't bother to read the release before signing it, took the news calmly. "I'm very popular in some of the far reaches of the Milky Way," he says. Even so, he says, "I don't think I've missed out on a lot of potential income."

Referring to geographical limits loosely can be dangerous ... "the United States is an ambiguous term...American Samoa, yes or no?"

"Throughout the world" would be one alternative, but that excludes possible future markets ... Some day, Mr. Goldman adds, people might ask, "What were they thinking? Why didn't they get the Mars rights?"

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