How to deal with a former collaborator that's trying to cause problems?

I’m gonna speak in vague generalities here to protect myself, but more than a year ago, we had to remove an actor/writer from our webseries. There was a major falling out, complaints from other cast about him, people refusing to work with him, etc. and I eventually had to remove him from the project.

He shortly started telling everyone I wasn’t going to give him credit and posted our entire season 1 script online and then messaged me saying I wasn’t allowed to use anything he wrote. (But apparently it was okay for him to publish everything?) He finally disappeared for over a year.

Next thing I know a little over a year later he decides to file a copyright claim against the one episode I’ve released that he actually contributed to, claiming that we had an agreement where I was going to remove all his contributions if he took down the published script. While I did make that offer, he in no uncertain terms told me to “F off” and then blocked me. This was the first I heard from him since the offer was made.

He then tried to post series spoilers on our YouTube channel and I had to disable comments. He disappeared after that. I just found a post from him on Twitter of him saying, “Who wants to watch me tear apart the webseries I helped write? It’s gonna be super fun!”

His contributions consist of little more than ideas and outlines that weren’t ever written down that are in all likelihood going to be scrapped by the time we get that far into production of other seasons, and he rewrote a few scenes of season 1 that I had already written, but the only thing that made it into the final episode was a couple lines of dialogue, which he was credited for.

While I understand trolling is a part of any online project, he legitimately thinks he holds ownership.

What would be the best way to handle this?

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I’m hosting the AMA right now my dude but I will get back to you on this as soon as it’s over!! In the meantime- @hermdelica @JasonRyan @Thomas_Tulak @SnobbyRobot @HackettKate @DarekKowal @JulieK come to mind for this.

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First I have some questions:

  1. Did you have a contract of any kind with this person?
  2. Is there only one episode he has any sort of contributions to?
  3. Has he been credited on any of the rest of the project, regardless of how intense said credit is?
  4. Would crediting him as a writer make this go away, or is that not enough? EDIT Just read through your thing again and saw you had, in fact, credited him. So follow up: is he trying to take that one episode down with the copyright claim, or get further credit, or what?

New question post-edit: Is it possible to rewrite and reshoot that one episode?

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You could try reporting him for harassment to YouTube or various other platforms, for one

I would also guess that WGA has guidelines for who owns what based on their own informed legal experts. You could try referring to those to understand what your actual rights are (though I understand that even if there’s no legal claim, this could still persist as an issue).

You could also try reaching out to shared acquaintances, professional or otherwise, in the hopes that they can mediate this.

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  1. There were no contracts at the time. Early on in the development process when he was still involved it was just a bunch of friends creating something together and there weren’t any outsiders brought into the mix. Lesson learned there.

  2. There is only one episode to date that he has had tangible contributions to. And I have record of such via Celtx history. And we’re taking care to make sure and remove any traces of his contributions from future episodes. Easy enough for future seasons as nothing was ever written beyond a couple episodes (all me) and some ideas that I’m abandoning anyways. But I’m fairly certain even anything in the remainder of season 1 is even more minimal than what he contributed in the earlier episode that’s been released.

  3. He has been credited. He initially started his issues with me when he noticed his name wasn’t on the script title page on Celtx, and he took that to mean he wasn’t getting credit and then he started telling everyone I wasn’t giving credit. I asked him about it and he wouldn’t tell me where he wasn’t getting credit at because I had already generated the credit roll (which he was clearly in). It’s important to note he had left the project previously before anything had been written and it just hadn’t been updated. Also, he had edit capabilities so if he needed it on there he could have fixed it.

  4. In his copyright claim last year he claimed he’d go away if I removed his credit from the episode and reuploaded, but he was unwilling to meet me halfway there because at that point I’d already paid for promotions on the video. And also I was worried he might then turn around and try to say I didn’t give him credit. He also wanted his name removed from IMDB on the project. I’m honestly not sure what his goal is at this point, if he just wants to harrass us and try to derail the series or if he’s just upset over one episode.

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He also seems to suffer under the delusion that his ideas from brainstorming sessions that weren’t ever written down are tangible and therefore copyrightable. I honestly have no recollection of who said what during brainstorming sessions if it wasn’t written down or recorded.

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Ok so based on this, it sounds like this is mostly him being an asshole. I actually feel like removing his credit (as he’s apparently requested) might make it WORSE, because then he could turn around and pretend like he’s owed something on the project because you’re claiming he had nothing to do with it. Kinda a catch-22.

My initial advice (aside from the stuff Ajay just added which I agree with) is to send him a very fair email stating that you’re disappointed that your relationship has deteriorated to this point and that because you’ve been made aware of his public declarations of tearing them apart, you’re prepared to offer the following:

  1. Removal of his name from IMDb
  2. Removal of his name from anything else associated with the show EXCEPT the episode itself.

Then re-explain the reason you won’t reupload the episode is because you are aware he did contribute to the episode and want to be fair in your crediting, and also that you’ve spent a lot of time and money promoting that episode and that asking for it to be deleted for property crediting him for his contribution is both unnecessary and unfair. You are willing to work with him to make his concerns and needs heard in other ways though, and you’re open to him pitching you ways to do that.

Basically, remain firm and disappointed about his conduct and ask, short of taking that video down, what you can do to make him feel heard and to go your separate ways.

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This is tricky because the way the “writer’s room” dynamic is typically handled is with a producer credit. I worked in a format where different people pitched ideas and jokes and I credited them as “contributing producers” to avoid any issues when I solely wrote the script.

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Not a bad idea. I’ll keep that in mind for the future as well.

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This sounds to me like this person is shouting into the wind.

Are you profiting from the project? That’s when things get complicated in situations like this.

You likely already do now, but get anyone who sets foot on your project to sign a release or agreement sculpted to your project. I was in the exact same situation a while back, and it’s the worst. Hope you resolve it.

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Pssst @whoisjonporter we’ve got an article about contracts for ya! Why Your Web Series Needs Contracts (Part 6)

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If you have no contracts and he has no proof of anything, if you’re positive you’re in the right, let him shout. Ignore it. If and when he files in court, you can deal with it then.

(spoiler: he won’t.)

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This was my thought as well.

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@whoisjonporter You’re getting some GREAT advice here. I’ve been in this sort of situation, and YES, you should obviously have contracts in the future, get some formal mediation if possible, but I’m wondering: have you just straight out asked him what he wants? Obviously this is a very touchy situation, but breakups (event professional ones) are difficult and emotional at the core. Imagine a situation where you ask him what he’d want in order to get this resolved, give him a chance to do the right thing, and let the air out of this angry balloon.

This will take you being a VERY big person, and I totally get it if you’re way past this point.

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Yeah. I was talking to a fellow filmmaker locally last night who’s currently going through a dispute of his own and he had mentioned something similar. I’m considering it.

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