from the legal-conundrums dept
We recently wrote about the initially cool, but eventually frustrating, story of author James Erwin, who turned a comment he made on a Reddit story into a movie deal with Warner Bros. The frustrating part came out of the news that Erwin mentioned in an interview that due to the “locked-down IP rights” common in the movie industry, he couldn’t spend more time on Reddit with the community that built up around the “Rome, Sweet Rome” story.
Now, some in our comments questioned whether Erwin even had the right to grant such an exclusive license to Warner Bros., noting both that the community helped develop part of the story and that Reddit’s terms might forbid it. Eriq Gardner, at THREsq, decided to dig into the legal question, and suggests that it’s entirely possible that Warner Bros. could not have exclusively licensed the story, and in theory anyone else could try to get the same rights from Reddit itself.
Part of it is the boilerplate language in Reddit’s terms:
“you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.”
This really is boilerplate. Look at almost any modern user-generated content platform and you’ll see similar terms. But, at the very least here, it suggests that while Erwin could offer up some rights to WB, he cannot grant them exclusively. In fact, Reddit itself could make the same movie based on this… or it could separately license the story to a competing studio. It seems unlikely that they would do that, but it certainly seems possible.
Additionally, there are still some questions about whether or not Erwin could have licensed parts of the story that were developed by others:
although Erwin undoubtedly did much of the hard work in crafting the story himself, during the genesis of “Rome, Sweet Rome,” some of Reddit’s other users made suggestions to his work that may ultimately shape the final story.
Those concepts, if they are copyrightable, might not be Erwin’s to exclusively license.
Either way, while I doubt it will happen, it certainly would be interesting and amusing to see what would happen if Reddit tried to license the same rights to a competing studio.