Turkey: Film Treatment – Scenario And Turkish Copyright Law In The Light Of A Supreme Court Decision

In the center of Turkish Copyright Law, there is the term "Work". As a rule, products arising from creative activities and "bearing the characteristic of its author" 1 are defined as work. The second work which is created based on another (first) original work and carrying the characteristic of its author shall be defined as a "Derivative Work". Re-adaptations and successive re-adaptations are also possible under Turkish Copyright Law.

Films however, are cinematographic and complex works which are created by cooperation of several authors. In the center of a cinematographic work there is a "Scenario" since it is not possible to shoot a film without a scenario. That is why, author of the Scenario is also deemed as one of the authors of the film.

Creating process of a scenario usually spreads over a long time. In order to start the writing process of a scenario, a basic plotline is required. The text and written work of such plotline is called the synopsis. A film treatment – which forms the basis of a scenario – is an adaptation of synopsis including a detailed version of the story line. In some cases, writer may skip synopsis phase and may directly create the treatment. Synopsis or treatment may or may not be deemed as an individual work depending on the condition "bearing the characteristic of its author". Accordingly, synopsis or treatment may be protected by copyright law.2

Process of creating the scenario from a treatment also takes a long time. Adaptation of the first rough scenario into final scenario of 100-110 pages needs a team work and sometimes advice from consultants. Moreover, it is also possible to get assistance from other scenarist or persons for dialogs which will take part in the scenario.

In summary, final scenario which forms the basis of the film is developed through the following process: synopsis – treatment – base scenario – scenarios – final scenario. This procedure is an "adaptation/re-adaptation process" according to Copyright Law. Each one of these phases is considered individually and separately under Copyright Law. Treatment is and adaptation of synopsis, scenario is and adaptation of treatment and final scenario is an adaptation of scenarios. As an example, the dispute which is the subject of below mentioned Supreme Court decision3, mentions yearlong process from first scenario to final scenario, which involves 11 scenario drafts, consulting advice of academicians from Middle East Technical University and foreign scenarists at various phases.

We believe which is the first decision of Supreme Court on treatment-scenario is also an acceptance of both treatment as a work and scenario as a derivative work which is created by adaptation of treatment.  In this case, by taking into consideration the fact that authors of treatment and scenario are different persons, Supreme Court decided that both author of treatment and scenario have different rights arising from authorship on their work/derivative work.

Although we have only discussed only one element of the film which is the scenario, a film's authors are "scenarist, dialogue writer, original music composer and director" according to Turkish Copyright Law. In other words, director creates a new adaptation and derivative work based on the scenario "which is an independent work apart from the film" and by integrating original film music or other musical works to this scenario. In brief, film is a "derivative work" based on scenario and original film music and also a re-adaptation of treatment.

Copyright agreements naturally become important in consequence of this tangled process of work/adaptation/re-adaptation. If these agreements are not drafted in a way valid under Turkish Copyright Law and do not properly protect rights of contracting parties, lawsuits and disputes will become inevitable. Moreover, if these agreements are not properly drafted and one of the authors goes bankrupt, runs into debt and ends up with attachments and seizures on its rights and assets; the producer and other right holders will face significant risks in relation to the film.

Footnotes

1 "Bearing the characteristic of its author" means an independent work which reflects its author's creative power and has the characteristics of its author. Reflecting its author's creative power does not always mean originality, and it shall not be interpreted strictly. It should be sufficient to create another work different from an existing work. This difference may be seen on the content or the form of the work.

2 In case synopsis or treatment does not bear the characteristics of its author, it shall not be deemed as a work and be protected under Turkish Copyright Law. In such case right holders may, however, continue use their other rights granted by law.

3 Turkish Supreme Court's unpublished decision, 11th Civil Chamber of Turkish Supreme Court, File No: 2012/11945 E., Decision No: 2012/16772k, dated 22.10.2012.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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