‘Sound of Freedom’ Sequel Chaos: Who Owns the Rights?

In a summer of many misses, “Sound of Freedom” has become a major and unlikely box office hit, making a sequel seem a foregone conclusion. But who exactly holds the rights to tackle a new outing? Well, it’s complicated.

A representative for producer Mike Ilitch Jr. told Variety that her client signed a deal with Tim Ballard, the anti-human trafficking activist who is the subject of the breakout film, “for exclusive life rights” and that the pair recently began developing a follow-up. Ilitch Jr., the son of Mike Ilitch, billionaire owner of Little Caesars Pizza, wasn’t going to stop there. He also planned a scripted series and a docuseries about Ballard’s various missions rescuing children from sexual exploitation.

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The “Sound of Freedom” franchise plan also included leveraging an unnamed Ballard nonprofit and other nongovernmental organizations “to provide targeted resources, specific calls to action and further real-life and behind-the-scenes stories of inspiration and momentum.” But then the rep for Ilitch Jr., who has co-financed and executive produced such films as “The Lost City of Z” and “LBJ,” reversed course and said the information was “not accurate,” without providing clarification.

Separately, “Sound of Freedom” director Alejandro Monteverde told Variety that he secured Ballard’s life rights while researching the film during the scriptwriting stage sometime around 2015. He acknowledged that sequel talks are afoot, with the action moving from Colombia, where the original film is set, to Haiti. “There’s definitely a lot of interest to exploring [the subject] a little deeper, because this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the director said. But a spokesperson for Monteverde later said that his client’s rights only covered one movie. The rep added, “In regards to the sequel, there have been discussions, but there is nothing additional to report now.”

There’s a good reason that Monteverde or the film’s distributor, Angel Studios, or even a would-be financier like Ilitch Jr., want a crack at making a sequel. After all, “Sound of Freedom” has earned $178 million to date, pulling in more money domestically than “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” with a wide international release about to begin. (Those tentpoles were made for just under $300 million apiece, while “Sound of Freedom’s” budget was $14.5 million.)

As distributor, Angel Studios presumably holds the rights to the “Sound of Freedom” title and could pursue a spinoff with a different protagonist than Ballard, who is played by Jim Caviezel. But Ballard’s personal connection to the material as a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent would seem essential to any further exploration of the story.

Still, attorneys who specialize in intellectual property rights say the “Sound of Freedom” case is messy and somewhat unique.

“This is unusual because if it was a big studio, the studio would have locked up all of the rights, and [Ballard] wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go and enter into an agreement with somebody else,” says Lisa Callif of the law firm Donaldson Callif Perez. “I do understand why it happened because they probably were hoping to make this one movie and had no idea it would be as successful as it is. And now they’re in this predicament.”

Leslie Steinau at Wilk Auslander likened the situation to the battle between former President Donald Trump and journalist Bob Woodward over a series of interviews that were turned into the 2022 audiobook “The Trump Tapes.” (In January, Trump filed a lawsuit against Woodward, claiming that the work violated his contractual rights and copyright interests.)

“Trump is saying, ‘The words came out of my mouth, and I own the copyright to those words,’” says Steinau. “It’s an unsettled area of the law: Who owns the initial copyright to that material? In this case, it’s questionable whether the studio can go ahead and make a second motion picture without the subject’s consent and participation.”

Ultimately, the various parties may come together and reunite the team behind the breakout film. After all, Ilitch Jr.’s rep initially said the full producing team, talent and distribution deals “are being finalized” but added, “It might be some time.”

VIP+ Analysis: Takeaways From ‘Sound of Freedom’ Success

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