Theatrical scripts may be reacquired, and television scripts may revert. The rules are often confused (and some may say confusing), and should be clarified so the rights can be exploited to the fullest.
Reacquisition - Theatrical
Original theatrical motion pictures stories and screenplays (not based on any pre-existing material) may be reacquired during a 2 year period; the period for the writer to buy back his/her script begins 5 years following the completion of the sale or the original writer's services (whichever is later). (See Article 16.A.8. of the MBA) That 5-year period is extended if the purchasing/employing company sells the materials to another Company (so the buying Company also gets a 5 year period to produce the film).
During the writer's 2-year reacquisition period, the writer may reacquire the material (so long as the project is not then in active development), by paying back what the writer received for the original material (the purchase price and/or employment fees). The writer must then obligate a subsequent purchasing Company to pay back the balance of direct script costs (pension and health payments, payments to other writers, etc.), but not production or overhead costs. Monies due from the subsequent purchasing Company are payable (with interest) upon commencement of principal photography, but the specific payment requirements for those other costs vary depending on which Guild agreement covers the original script.
If the reacquisition period has expired, and the writer has not approached the Company to reacquire the material, the writer no longer has the right under the Guild agreement to buy the material back, and would need to negotiate directly with the Company to buy back the script.
Guild reacquisition appears similar to a "turnaround," but it is not the same. A turnaround is a negotiated option allowing someone (generally a producer) to shop an abandoned property and, if the project is sold to another company, the original company will be paid negotiated "costs" (often including overhead and production costs, with interest).
Reversion - Television
Original television stories and teleplays have significantly different rules for ownership. (See Article 16.B.2.) The employing or purchasing Company has a specified period (30 months or 4 years, depending on the length and nature of the material written) during which it has the exclusive rights to produce the television project (the rights to produce the material as a theatrical motion picture are established by separate provisions).
Following the Company's period of exclusivity, both the Company and the writer have a non-exclusive right to produce for television the story and teleplay (a non-exclusive right has reverted to the writer). That means that the Company and the writer may each produce the property for television without further obligations to the other. For any original material written under the 1985 Guild agreement or thereafter, the writer has the right to buy back the Company's non-exclusive rights (and thereby have the exclusive rights to the material) by repaying what the writer was paid, and obligating a subsequently acquiring Company to pay the balance of script costs after its recoupment of production costs.
In addition, if the Company does not produce a television series or sequel movie for television based on the original material within specified periods of time, the right to produce such a series or sequel movie for television revert exclusively to the original writer.
Please call the Contracts Department at the WGA [(323)782-4501] if you have questions.