[question mark] I’ve looked through all your replies to rights questions, but didn’t see one that quite answered mine.

A friend of mine tried to write a memoir a few years ago, but ended up with a hodgepodge of notes and thinly connected chapters. It never came together, but while trying to help him ferret out a through-line, I started thinking of it in terms of a screenplay. So I adapted it, devising an entirely new story to bind the fragments together. I haven’t told my friend because he’s hideously critical (I once dreamed he was a snotty French midget who made me carry him around on my back), so I don’t want to breathe a word of it until I have a half-decent script to show him.

In the meantime, I want to submit it for a contest whose prize is a month-long workshop, but they require that adapted scripts include written proof that the rights have been obtained. Do you think this sounds necessary in my case? My understanding is that since it’s just for a workshop, the sponsor organization isn’t in any position of liability anyway — am I correct in believing rights needn’t really come into play until money changes hands?

– Lara

There are two issues at work here. First is legal liability. If you were simply appropriating bits and pieces of your friend’s life from stories he told you, and constructing a new narrative, then I think you’d be relatively well-justified in thinking yourself safe. But the fact is, your friend wrote this stuff down. You read it. No matter how badly written it is, his hodgepodge memoir is his intellectual property, not yours. So if your script is based on the stuff he wrote, you need his permission. While it’s true that there’s not a lot of consequence to this kind of copyright infringement until money changes hands, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless, or okay.

The second issue here is moral responsibility. You’ve read through my other answers about copyright, where my standard advice is generally write first, ask questions later. I think you wrote in specifically to get the same counsel, and keep your conscience clear.

No such luck.

I think you’re a pretty crappy friend. So what if the French midget can’t write a good memoir? That doesn’t give you the right to make the movie version of wee Napoleon’s life without consulting him first. Does the title page even acknowledge that it’s based on his life? Or is that something that doesn’t matter “until money changes hands?”

My advice: tell him what you did, and show him the script. Maybe he’ll love it. Maybe he’ll hate it, and stop being your friend. I can’t say I’d blame him.