No one owns their life story. Personal facts, historical events, names, ideas and themes cannot be copyrighted. So, for a producer wanting to tell the story, in any medium, of someone either living or dead, it is not necessary to acquire life rights to their story in order to tell it.
That being said, there are some reasons to acquire life rights prior to developing a personal story, and to briefly list relevant and necessary considerations that need to be made prior to executing a life rights contract.
Although a person does not own the rights to their own story, the law does consider how that story is presented and where material is garnered for the retelling. For the subject, it is an overview of what privacy rights are being given up and an insurance policy that should something of monetary importance happen, you will be compensated accordingly.
There are nine basic areas that should be covered in a life rights option agreement.
1. What this Option is: A) what you will get? B) what I will do?
2. The Terms of this contract: A) initial term length, B) any extensions and compensation for extensions.
3. Exercise of Option: What is granted for these permissions (money or percentage point of films total budget).
4. Further Productions: if other projects are produced, further payments or compensation owed.
5. Description of Rights: include all territories, all media, the right to use you and your life, the right to include/exclude what I deem appropriate.
6. Warranties and Indemnities: subject has sole proprietorship of the story and it is not sold or leased to any other entity.
Full cooperation for certain intervals of time with author and others, as well as possibly obtaining rights to other characters in the story
8. Failure to Make or Release Project: Not required to happen, though best efforts will be asserted.
9. Assignment: Right to assign.
As defined above, the life rights contract is basically two contracts in one: an acquisition of rights to the story contract and a contract to adapt the story.
Although not necessary, a life rights contract can bring peace of mind to both the author and subject.