|“How can I protect my idea for a movie or TV show?”, and “Is my reality show idea or movie pitch protected by copyright?”|
These are two critical questions I often hear from new screenwriters and producers wanting to pitch their projects in the TV/Film marketplace. I’m not a Lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, but my background in TV format and film concept development at top companies has given me a firsthand understanding of how the process of creating and pitching TV show ideas and movie ideas impacts the ability to protect a creator’s project.
The debate over whether or not ideas can be protected is one that often misleads the Writer/Creator in understanding their intellectual property rights, and a company’s position on the issue. So let’s dive in for an understanding of how copyright protection and the process of pitching ideas intersect within the TV and film industry.
|When people tell you “ideas can’t be protected”, they’re telling a half truth. The truth is more specific.|
Judges ruling in intellectual property infringement cases have confirmed “stock ideas alone” have no protection. Examples; “It’s a show about race car drivers”, or “The show follows a worldwide scavenger hunt”, or “The contestants are all blindfolded” are all ideas, but those basic ideas alone are just stock ideas. Protection of an intellectual property lives in the specific and unique expression that is created beyond a stock idea, and a buyer’s solicitation and exposure to that project prior to their own development of the same. Your task as a writer/creator is to develop your “idea” into a detailed and unique expression in a fixed format (written or filmed) that proposes or proves how the idea is expressed in end result.
A Copyright Is Not A Patent: I’ve seen countless new writers and creators profess belief that no other person can create the same project they’ve written, and they’ll even ask how they can check to see if anyone else has already created a specific concept before investing time and resources. First, it’s an impossibility to use ESP or other super-powers to scan the minds and desktops of all the writers in the world. Second, written creative works are not widgets that win a patent as a product and prevent others from going to market with the same type of widget they created.
With any conflict, protection happens when three things are established:
1) The producing company solicited the project from the person making the claim. This is what we call “proof of exposure”. We provide that here in our platform for pitching.
2) The person making claim has a third party copyright archival of the intellectual property written prior to the production company establishing their own separate creation and development of the same work.
3) The project produced has a significant amount of facets that are identical to the project that was pitched. The latter is the single most important factor. Having a very specific and unique expression of your story, character, format in a written form that is developed beyond being a “stock idea” is what gives you copyright protection.
Why companies require Material Release agreements
Imagine the amount of material and pitch development that take place within a production company or studio. The role of a development executive is positioned at the heart of a company, collaborating with producers on projects internally, while also sourcing projects and properties from a multitude of outside sources. If they allowed any person to simply push across a concept, and not protect themselves, the odds of a conflict are stacked against the company in a highly unfair manner. Specifically, if they’ve developed or collaborated on five hundred pitches, and one or several of them are within the same subject or concept as the pitch, it casts doubt and conflict between the parties. They must reserve the right to produce similar projects, simply because they have no way of knowing if what you’re presenting is identical to that which they’ve already worked on or already have in development.
Keep in mind, the life-blood of production companies is having highly original and timely material they can sell and produce. They must find new talent. They must find new projects. But they need to protect their position.
The Race to the Mountain Top
We’re part of an industry that is one of a kind. You can’t go to the Ford Motor Company and say “hey, I’ve got a great idea for a new car you should manufacture.” But the entertainment industry produces properties that rely on creativity and stories from all corners of the country and beyond. The opportunity to pitch and sell shows or films is more alive and vibrant than ever before. If you’re going to get your concept or script to the mountain top first, you must take broad measures when marketing, AND work on multiple projects, just like the production companies do. The more bricks in your
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