I get asked this a lot and I’m tired of answering it; I have pages to write. So here it is, hopefully for the last time. Some newbie writers worry about their ideas or entire scripts being stolen. In fact, all of us worry about our ideas being stolen to some degree. Here’s my take on the best way to avoid that, both as a writer who, of necessity, circulates a lot of ideas in the community and as an entertainment attorney. This is not legal advice – just thoughts on a weblog.
1. Similar ideas always exist and always come from multiple sources. If your so-called idea is just a vague general concept, there’s not much that can or, in my opinion, should be done to protect it. If you believe in your idea, flesh it out, write something down, maybe even put in the real work it takes to write the script.
2. Written ideas can be copyrighted. Copyright your screenplays and, if written down in sufficient detail, your ideas, too. Do not bother to send them into the WGA script vault or any of the others around town. It is just as easy to fill out a proper copyright form and send it to the Copyright Office. A real copyright sometimes gives you additional legal rights. The link you just passed takes you to a page where you can get the right form and simple directions to register your copyright.
3. Keep a written record of who you share your ideas with. If you talk to someone about your idea, put it down on your log, including the date, time, and substance of what you shared.
4. If you are not represented by an agent or manager or if you present ideas on your own even as a represented writer, write a confirming letter immediately following your presentation of the idea – just a short note that confirms in a nice way that you presented such and such an idea and appreciate it being considered. If you are represented by an agent or manager, talk to him or her about the best way to confirm an idea presentation. The agent or manager may prefer to do the follow up.
Finally, expect similar ideas to surface and, often, beat your idea out. It’s part of doing business. If you are really worried, write a good script. Those are much harder to steal.