Do Hollywood studios own rights on Mars?

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Do Hollywood studios own rights on Mars?

Thu Oct 29, 2009 @ 09:53AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Uss_enterprise Throughout space and time, industry lawyers have been caught flat-footed by new technology. Fifty years ago, no attorney demanded digital rights to books, movies, TV shows, and the rest.

These days, they compensate for this lack of vision by drafting broad, vague contract terms that can handily be applied in far-off galaxies.

The WSJ has some fun with this topic in a front-page article that picks on the contractual phrase, "throughout the universe, in perpetuity." 

The authors make the point that the language has become standard in Hollywood as entertainment companies pick on amateur talent by locking up every possible future stream of revenue.

True, one will find a universal rights-grab in contracts with reality television stars. The Real Housewives of New Jersey, for example. But even power players often give up rights "throughout the universe." A search of the SEC's Edgar database turns up 560 examples of the phrase in the last couple years alone, including in CBS CEO Les Moonves' employment agreement.

Our favorite quote comes from a spokesperson for Lucasfilm, who, responding to the need for such boilerplate on the terms-of-service, says, "To be honest with you, we have had very few cases of people trying to exploit rights on other planets."

As hard as it is to believe, there's actually been a bit of discussion in recent years on the issue of intellectual property in outer space.

We have two questions for legal-minded science/philosophy geeks: First, is there an assumption that if some dispute should arise on a planet like Mars, the contract would be honored in an alien jurisdiction? Second, why haven't entertainment lawyers locked up rights in parallel universes?

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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