In the history of the world cinema, there is no question that one of the most important period has been represented by the so-called Italian Neorealism. Masters like Fellini, Rossellini and De Sica and movies such as “La dolce vita”, “Sciuscià” and “Ladri di biciclette” have represented one of the proudest moment of creativity in the cinematographic art of all time. Quentin Tarantino has always indicated the Italian cinema of the 70s as a key source of inspiration, both under technical and creative point of view.
For the reasons thereof, a great deal of remakes and sequels of popular Italian movies has been realized during years. More and more often the producers seek for the acquisition of the relevant rights in order to realize a further number of remakes and sequels.
Therefore, in order to allow the interested producers to properly and efficiently obtain the rights it is necessary to understand who is actually the owner of such rights.
On the grounds of the Italian law, in a film work, the authors of the script, screenplay and music, along with the director, are considered co-authors (Article 44 of the Italian copyright law), while the producer exercises the exploitation rights over the work (Article 45 of the Italian copyright law).
This means that the authors and the producer enter into an agreement through which the economic exploitation rights of the work are assigned to the producer.
However, the rights to create a new work somehow derived from the original production work belong to the authors, therefore, these rights must be subject to express assignment to the producer, that must be formalized in writing (Article 110 of the Italian copyright law).
As a consequence thereof, in order to create a remake or a sequel of an Italian movie, the producer shall address: (i) to the original producer where he provides with written proof that he is the assignee of the rights at hand; (ii) or, alternatively, in case the producer cannot make evidence of the above, to the authors or to the heirs of the authors.
Now, with explicit reference to the 60s and 70s Italian movies, the relevant assignment of the remake or sequel rights is not always included in the agreements between authors and producers. At best, such agreements provide for pretty much generic clauses of assignment. Therefore, an interpretation of the contractual text is needed.
Furthermore, it shall be noted that, even when the proof of the occurred assignment has been served, the interested producers need a further search and negotiation activity.
Indeed, during the 60s and 70s, the cinematographic producers entered into assignment agreements with the authors of the script, the director and the authors of the screenplay.
However, with reference to the music, the producers used to enter into agreements which included the assignment of the rights on the music work but not the rights of the composer in his quality of coauthor of the cinematographic work.
This gap, existing in almost all the Italian cinematographic works of such period, now leads to the needing for an interested producer to address the author of the music or, more often, its heirs, in order to achieve the approval required to create a work derived from the original film, even in presence of assignments realized by the authors.
In any other case, however, without a clear willing of the authors to assign the rights at hand, the interested producer must take the matter to the authors or their heirs in order to achieve a valid assignment.
Since then the producer concerned can be considered protected.
This is the only route to remake “La Dolce vita”. In the words of Marcello Rubini, the principal character of the movie: “This is the art I prefer. The one I think we’ll need tomorrow”.