Movies – Are You Worried That Hollywood Will Steal Your “Great Film Idea”?
A reader asked me what she should do if someone tries to steal “her idea” for this great Hollywood movie.
This is the e-mail I’ve sent to her:
Here is my PERSONAL OPINION on this matter:
You cannot copyright an idea. But if you write a 20-page treatment and then register it with Writers Guild of America you can perhaps claim credit for it. The registration is good for 5 years. The best is of course to copyright it with U.S. Copyright Office.
But even better is to write a full screenplay. Then the idea becomes a PRODUCT and you can copyright it to make it your INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.
An idea is not property. However, I’m not an attorney and you should not take anything in this e-mail as valid legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney.
But after all is said and done, you can’t worry too much in Hollywood about someone stealing “your idea” for a number of reasons.
According to my personal experience:
1) Most people in Hollywood won’t steal your idea. They are professionals and they do this for a living. Their reputation is important to them. Also, when an average film costs anywhere from $50 to $100 million, it makes more sense to pay and buy an idea or script (for $1 mil max) rather than get sued and perhaps pay ten times as much. Stealing an idea does not make any economic sense in the larger scheme of things. Most Hollywood producers do not need to steal anything. If they like your idea (should you be so lucky!) they can just buy it, easily.
2) Most people want a lot more than just ideas from you. They want screenplays (plural). Not one but dozens of them. Even one screenplay is treated only as a calling card, as an indication of your talent. One professional screenwriter I know who sold 19 scripts says you need to have A DOZEN GREAT scripts ready at all times in order to sell ONE.
3) Even if someone steals your idea, it is not easy to fight it. That’s the ugly truth. The studios have more lawyers and money than you do. If you have the tens of thousands of dollars (and even perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars) to successfully sue a studio you perhaps wouldn’t try to sell a script in the first place? Think about it.
4) To get credit for your idea when collaborating with another writer you can sign a Nondisclosure Agreement and have it legally signed and sealed to commit the other writer to secrecy. But what if the other party does not keep his or her promise? See 3 above.
In sum, I’d say, if the idea that someone might steal your idea keeps you awake at night, screenwriting might not be a good vocational choice for you. After all there are people who are giving their movie ideas for FREE on the Internet!
If you love movies and would like to write movie and entertainment reviews like this you might want to check out the excellent power-writing guide at http://www.powerupwriting.com. And here’s a good site for free movie plot and characterization ideas: http://scriptboiler.blogspot.com