Q/A: Basing a Screenplay Story on a Published Book (or Movie, TV Series, Song, Play or Other Material)

Q: Can you legally change the title of a screenplay and still base the story on the original book – without using the book title? Can you do this without incurring a lawsuit or litigation from the book publisher and author? – Regulo “Reggie” Zapata

Thanks for your question Reggie.

If you own or option the film rights to a book, you can legally change the title for the screenplay. An example is the book “Push” by Sapphire, which was re-titled Precious when it was adapted for the screen. 

But you can’t base a screenplay’s story on a book unless you own or have optioned the film rights – that’s called copyright infringement and it’s illegal.

The same is true for adapting other types of intellectual property covered by copyright, such as a movie, television series, song, stage play, or even a video game.

However, you can legally adapt content without permission if the copyright has expired and the source material has entered the public domain, such as the Sherlock Holmes books and many of Agatha Christie's novels.