How to deal with media lawyers

18 February, 2014 by Don Groves

Don’t share your copyright with development partners. Consult a lawyer early in any negotiation. Be brutally honest with him/her. And don’t be cheap.

That’s among the advice to producers and other content creators from veteran media and entertainment lawyer Lyndon Sayer-Jones.


The attorney has just published a tome entitled Media Law for Non-Lawyers, updating a book which first came out more than 20 years ago.

“My motivation to release this 2014 edition was the realisation that since my first edition in 1992, no other such publications have come forward – not one,” he tells IF.

“This is despite major changes made since my first edition such as the merger of AFC and FFC into Screen Australia, the introduction of the producer offset tax scheme and, most important of all, the emergence of the Internet and social media.

“I don’t know why, I honestly don’t, but there are no other such books on film /media law – for non-lawyers, literally nothing in Australia. There is a book called The Film Business published in several editions by AFTRS with a legal section but I wrote that too.

“Yet overseas there are quite a few such books, especially in the US and UK. It’s weird. Lots of seminar papers etc but no published guides like my book. My place in history seems to be the scribe to the Australian media industry in the 90s and early 21st century.”

The first edition sold 9,800 copies in eight months. Sayer-Jones reckons he could easily have sold 13,000 or more had he done reprints.

The 2014 edition was released a week ago and 1,000 copies have been sold, 15% as e-books. Among the buyers are Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Film Victoria. SPA and AFTRS are recommending the book in their newsletters.

Here’s a selection of tips in the book:

Don’t share your copyright with development partners. Retain 100% ownership for as long as you can before you have to share it with investors, networks etc to finance your production because as long as you own the “rights,” you are in control.

Hire a lawyer who is a known player and works virtually full-time in film/TV – there are many wannabes out there.

Be brutally honest with your lawyer because they need to know about all the skeletons in your life, like "past partners," who may have a claim on your script or tax debts to ATO;  if they don't know they can unwittingly warrant things which will later cause huge problems.

Consult your lawyer early in any negotiation, not after the event, so you do not commit to things which will have to be undone.

Maintain a reputation of honesty and total reliability; anything less is career-killing in this industry.

Don't be "cheap" in arranging legal documentation. You get what you pay for and poorly drafted options, facility deals and licences will end up costing much more than legal fees.

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  • Danger Danger

    This even happens at SBS a government funded body.
    I had a proposal that included a segment that was of a particular style.
    I had a meeting with a commissioning editor who expressed interest and I left the DVD He was very sheepish when he returned the DVD a week later.

    Two weeks later I saw his most recent commission on SBS
    It had at the beginning a segment in the same style and idea as my submission. The content that followed jarred, in that was in a completely different and dry style. It livened up his commission.

    Whist of course nothing can be proved and anyway I would have no protection for just an idea. This is a cautionary tale. However an acknowledgement or thanks from the commissioning editor would have been nice. In fact his guilt was such that he avoided me, a poor outcome for both of us.

    Perhaps we should have an non disclosure agreement before we pitch?