Who Owns A Movie? Is It The Scriptwriter, The Director Or The Producer?

Director-Shirley Frimpong Manso
Director-Shirley Frimpong Manso

Is it fair to give the ownership of a movie to the man [Producer/Executive Producer] with the financial power? Or should it go to the man [Director] who directed the movie, the person who narrated the story to the scriptwriter to develop or the ownership should belong to the scriptwriter who transformed the story to a script?

After my acting course and years as a member of several stage acting groups, it taught me that, movie production is a tiring and demanding venture. I was also taught that, it’s a field that requires the services of many professionals. No one has been able to make a movie single-handedly as far as I know.

Just last weekend, two personalities in Ghana; one a known music-producer –now-turned-a-movie-producer and, an award winning scriptwriter cum costume professional were involved in a needless argument where they displayed how childish some grown up can be on radio.

What they displayed on radio was unintelligent but before I go into what triggered their bust-up. Let me try to throw in some bit of education on here: Only a story cannot make a movie and without a story, there can’t be a movie. This means that, a story is required to be developed into a script to make a movie.

Now back to the two personalities. The first person said he narrated a story to be developed into a script, hence claiming the movie is his. Also the other party argued that, she developed the story into a script, meaning the movie is hers. I doubt if any of them thought about the director and the producer.

Even when a story is turned into a script, a director and a producer are needed to make a movie. The Director directs the casts on set whiles the Producer or the Executive Producer takes care of the finances.

Aside the other esteemed professionals needed to complete a movie; it appears that, the aforementioned folks play integral part in movie making… So the question is: Who then owns a movie? What do you think?

If the story narrator and scriptwriter can fight needless about the ownership of a movie, can the cameraman or the light man also claim ownership because they rolled the camera and lighted the set for the movie?


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12 thoughts on “Who Owns A Movie? Is It The Scriptwriter, The Director Or The Producer?”

  1. With this case I think it depends on the negotiation between both the narrator and the writer who helps in developing the script. If both are claiming to be the rightful owner of the film, then in my opinion I believe the one who helped in developing the script is trying to take advantage over the narrator. On the other hand, I think the producer should be the rightful owner since he/she is the one who is investing over thousands/millions on the project.
    Even if this case is between the script writer and the the producer; and the writer claims to be the owner of the movie then, there might be a negotiation between the script writer and the producer. In my second opinion, I don’t think the director, cinematographer, actors etc can claim to be the rightful owner of the the film because they all are paid or can be hired and paid to do that job. Unless maybe the director owns the script or has bought it from the writer and is directing / producing it him or herself, which in that case the director can claim to be the owner of it.

  2. Seems like the writer had more to the movie than anyone else

    the writer is not the owner of the MOVIE. the writer is the owner of the story or the intellectual property. in most cases.

    many people can own a movie. I learned this from asking questions about so many movie owner scandals that have happened in Ghana and abroad. they call something to license a film. if you make a film and liongate licenses it for 5 years, at that time lionsgate owns the film. so for 5 years, Lionsgate owns the copyright. after the years run out, it will be owned by someone else or revert to the producers.

    but I guess the question is, who does lionsgate buy the film from? its the producer. or, the person who conceptualizes the project. who’s idea was it to make the film? that is the first owner. Why? that is the person who is going to look for the money, the crew, the cast and bring people together to make the movie.
    if the person whose idea it is does not have money, he can go to someone who has money or someone who can find money and say I have this idea, can you help me find money so we can be co-owners. now there are 2 owners. they make joint decisions. sometimes it can be 3 owners, 4 owners. but the main owner, if things are done right, is the person whose idea it was to make the film.

    Gallday, you are right to an extent when you say the writer owns it. if the writer is not paid, or if the writer has not ceded his rights, then movie is owned by the writer until he is duly compensated. If you go to borrow money to make the film and you tell the person you are borrowing from that if I don’t pay you own the film, then that person owns the film.

    a director does not own the film unless it says so by contract or if he put in money. That makes him a producer director. a director though owns the credit to the film. which means what the director owns is the praise, the acknowledgement, the creative success, development. if the director is also the writer, then he is either the sole owner or the co owner depending on the contract.

    I read an article sometime back about the movie coming to America that the script was stolen by paramount from an african american woman who wrote the script. in court, she was winning the case until they opted to settle out of court and paramount gave her 20million dollars or so as settlement. here is the link

    if you write a sript and take it to a studio and they buy it from you and make it, it is no longer yours wholly because you got paid, the movie is solely owned by the studio but you receive royalties as the writer and the owner of the intellectual property.

    a classic case is the leila akofa drama. It is right to say leila owns the rights because she is the writer, director and co producer and co executive producer (she put in money) since she said she was not paid by Akofa for the script, the film rightfully belongs to leila djansi because it was based on her intellectual property. if akofa had bought the script from Leila, then, Leila is not the only owner of the movie but is a joint owner of the movie. But she is the sole owner of the script and must be paid royalties (or not) by Akofa or by their company. if they both came up with the idea to make the film, then they are both owners. but they all are fighting for attention. lol.

    in this case, if the music producer did not pay the writer, then the film belongs to the writer since the movie is based on his intellectual property until he is paid and then it belongs to the producer.

    the writer is the owner of the intellectual property until he hands it over contractually to a producer, even then the writer is still a stakeholder in the ownership.
    the person who owns the movie is the person (s) the contract says owns the movie.

    nice topic Chris. dis is what you should be doing. not insulting celebrities.

    • @aisha, hmm good job. this is a very good explanation. i guess film making is very complicated than music.  its much easier to know the owner of an album than a movie.

  3. reading the article again, the narrator is the owner, not the scriptwriter. the script writer should sue for his money because she was only hired to do the work. she does not own the movie.

    ghanains luv attention to much

  4. .The movie director is the person who directs or guides on what the actors and actresses will be portraying in a movie while the movie producer is the one who makes the orders for creating the films

    the producer just gets together funding etc with little actual involvement in the film. Other times the producer is very involved and makes many decisions including tone, style, casting etc. It really does vary from film to film. The directors job is to always be there directing everything that happens on set day to day. They control what goes on.
    like Aisha explained above already scriptwriters only own their books depending on agreement they sign 

  5. aisha, you have been busy on google. but you are so right. kudos for that education. but in this case, someone narrated the story to the writer, so the narrator is the owner, not the person hired to write it. i think that this is a matter for the court. akofa and leila are two crazy bitches. ghana is full of plagiarist. we need a proper entertainment law or some of us will not go back to work.

  6. You cannot ascertain who owes a movie based on the work they have done on the movie…So you cannot say the Director, Scriptwriter or the Producer is the owner by default.

    To establish the owner of a movie, you must look at the paper work on the movie…It can even be possible that an investor may be the legal owner..By this I mean, someone can just hire a scriptwriter, hire a director, hire actors and all that, pay them to do a movie…In this sense, he has paid them for their contribution or intellectual property rights in the movie…(he has bought them) so he is the new and ultimate legal owner.

    Ownership of any work done by two or more people is regulated by Contract (agreement between the parties). This agreement states who has the ownership and nothing else…not the sort of work one did on the movie or how long the person worked.

  7. I am not sure about how things are handled in the West African movie industries, or that of Bollywood, but I can tell you exactly how it is handled in Europe and North America. Some of you have come close, with Chris’ comment the closest. It all starts with the script, either a writer (or team of writers) owns a script and wishes to see it made into a movie, or a producer has hired a writer (or team) to write a script for his/her movie idea. In the case of the former, it is up to the writer (or team) to prove their ownership through contract and copyright law. This can be done by getting the script registered through the Writer’s Guild, and assigning ownership through contracts if there were multiple entities involved in the creation. As for the latter case, the Producer is hiring people to make a script for him, so he will obviously make sure there are contracts in place naming him (or his company) as sole owner of the work. Now in both cases we have a script with legally defined ownership by either an individual, corporation, or a defined group of people. At this point a “lead producer” emerges, it can be a movie producer or director who wants to make the film, the writer (or writing team) who own the script, an actor who wants to star in the movie, or a production company. This “lead producer” negotiates with the owners of the script to gain rights to produce it into a movie. Sometimes the script is bought outright and the owners retain no rights to the movie in exchange for some sort of payment. In other cases the production rights are sold and the script owners still maintain ownership of the script itself. Some of these contracts give the owners of the script some ownership in the movie itself, some do not. If the script owners are given some percentage of ownership in the movie then the saga continues, if not then they have no rights to anything involved with the movie, even if they still own the script. The “lead producer” now creates a company (legal entity), lets call it Amazing Movie LLC, to handle the movie production and the finances involved. This new company is now given ownership of the movie production rights, and technically is the film itself. The “lead producer” creates a bank account for the company and assigns a certain number of shares for the company. The first shares will go out to the people already given partial ownership. For example: the “lead producer”; the script owners (if that was in their contract, see above); the production company; and any investors (even major film studios) who have put money into the project so far. From this point on there will be people/companies who invest in Amazing Movie LLC and get ownership shares in return, as well as certain above-the-line people who are hired (actors, directors, producers, etc.) that are given shares as part of their employment compensation. When the movie has been completed and is ready for distribution, then even more ownership issues come up. If the distribution is contracted out to another company, then the “distribution company” (like Universal or 20th Century Fox) usually will want some sort of ownership in the movie. Sometimes the movie is sold outright to the “distribution company” for a sum of money and/or royalties from the profits made. In this case the “distribution company” owns all rights to the movie/Amazing Movie LLC. Other times the “distribution company” obtains “distribution rights” which gives them the ability to distribute the movie while Amazing Movie LLC retains its current ownership status. These “distribution rights” assign how the film will be distributed, where the profits go, and how long these rights last. In this case, when time runs out on the “distribution rights” contract, then all rights return to the owners of Amazing Movie LLC. So that is the basic model used by the film industries in the Western world. It has been used for many decades and works extremely well with the legal systems in these areas. It is the idea that a movie production should be handled the same as creating a company, and it makes sense since making a movie is just like starting a company to produce a product. You develop your product idea, legally start the company, hire employees, produce the product, then distribute for profit (hopefully). I don’t know about the legal systems of West Africa or India, but movie producers in these areas would be smart to develop a similar system using their current business laws. As far as I know they might have already, but either way this is how movie ownership issues are handled in Europe and North America.


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