How to protect a screenplay?

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CJ

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Feb 3, 2006, 2:16:20 PM2/3/06
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First, let me establish right off the bat -- I'm not a newbie at this.
I know that both copyright and WGA protection are available for
screenplays. On the other hand, I also know you can't copyright an
idea. What I need is more information on how I can best protect what I
have.

Primarily, I am seeking an attorney referral, ideally in the DC metro
area, second best choice is New York City metro, but I'll take an LA
attorney if that's all I can get. I need an attorney who knows these
issues of protecting intellectual property, as it relates to
screenplays. Further discussion follows below, and any in-newsgroup
feedback would be welcome as well, but attorney referrals can be sent
to charlesjones456 aaattt yahoo dddooottt cccooommm.

Now, here's the scoop. My goal is to send letters to Hollywood
agencies, seeking representation for my screenplay. After years of
writing very talkie, philosophical screenplays that went nowhere, I've
really been focusing now on punchy, high-concept ideas. The problem
is, those are the most easily stealable!

For example, imagine no one had yet made Air Force One, and you came up
with the idea of the President's plane being hijacked. It makes for a
great one-line pitch, but someone else could easily run with that idea!
Or similarly, if no one had done Rocky, and you came up with the idea
of a would-be boxer/small time organized crime enforcer, who gets a
shot at boxing with the world heavy-weight champ. Again, great idea,
one line pitch, but easy for someone else to develop it.

So I'm in that quandary now. I have a script that no one has done
before, has an absolutely killer, superhigh concept one-line pitch --
and I have no Hollywood connections, so I don't know what to do but
send cold-call letters to agents. And the fact is, an agent could
easily read my letter, turn to a favorite, established writer, and say,
"Hey, why don't you see what you can do with this idea...." Again, any
advice and/or leads on reputable attorneys who can speak to this issue,
would be appreciated.

CJ

Timothy

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Feb 4, 2006, 4:24:27 PM2/4/06
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CJ wrote:

>
> Now, here's the scoop. My goal is to send letters to Hollywood
> agencies, seeking representation for my screenplay. After years of
> writing very talkie, philosophical screenplays that went nowhere, I've
> really been focusing now on punchy, high-concept ideas. The problem
> is, those are the most easily stealable!
>
> For example, imagine no one had yet made Air Force One, and you came up
> with the idea of the President's plane being hijacked. It makes for a
> great one-line pitch, but someone else could easily run with that idea!
> Or similarly, if no one had done Rocky, and you came up with the idea
> of a would-be boxer/small time organized crime enforcer, who gets a
> shot at boxing with the world heavy-weight champ. Again, great idea,
> one line pitch, but easy for someone else to develop it.
>

Insofar as it easy for anyone to develop any idea. The cases you
mention show why your concern has some validity. Air Force One was not
the first film about a President going missing. Rocky was not the
first film about a washed-up fighter who gets his big shot.

Your fear is that someone will hear your idea, run with it, hire other
screenwriters, and replicate your script and make a hit film out of it
without cutting you in on the action. It's not impossible. There are
a few extenuating circumstances, however. One is that if this DOES
happen you're no worse off than you are now. The second is that the
producer, assuming this is a mainstream Hollywood-type production,
would be violating the terms of Hollywood's Writers Guild contract,
which basically says that if you use a writer's work you have to pay
them for it. (He would also be violating the rules of his or her own
guild, the Producers Guild.) The third is that the producer would
probably still be violating your copyright. But the BIGGEST
extenuating circumstance is the fact that you already have written a
screenplay-- presumably a pretty good one. It's quicker, easier and
cheaper to buy (and no doubt revise) your existing screenplay, which
the producer already knows he or she likes, than to take a chance on
finding someone else to write a whole new one.

Timothy

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Feb 5, 2006, 6:15:07 PM2/5/06
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>It's quicker, easier and
>cheaper to buy (and no doubt revise) your existing screenplay, which
>the producer already knows he or she likes, than to take a chance on
>finding someone else to write a whole new one.

And, not only that: the producer runs the risk of you selling the idea
to a competitor. While Producer A is busy stealing your idea by
writing a new script based on your idea, you might be working with
Producer B.

Producer B is going to have a head start on Producer A, since your
script will already be in existence at the beginning of the project.
Even if Producer A finishes his or movie first, he or she is going to
be in a very risky situation... It's much safer to simply buy the
damned script in the first place.

The importance of the basic idea is kind of overrated, I might add. If
ya look at the list of biggest-grossing themes, you see many which are
based on not very promising ideas. The #1 film of all time, "Titanic"
for example, is a love story set on the Titanic. Until the film
actually came out, this was regarded as one of the worst concepts in
the history of moviemaking.

Moreover, the basic idea is going to be just a small part of the film.

John Hyde

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Feb 9, 2006, 7:05:15 PM2/9/06
to
on 2/4/2006 1:24 PM Timothy said the following:
> CJ wrote:
>
>
>> <Original Postor worried about protecting screenplay>
>>
>
>
<SNIP>

> Your fear is that someone will hear your idea, run with it, hire other
> screenwriters, and replicate your script and make a hit film out of it
> without cutting you in on the action. It's not impossible. There are
> a few extenuating circumstances, however. One is that if this DOES
> happen you're no worse off than you are now. The second is that the
> producer, assuming this is a mainstream Hollywood-type production,
> would be violating the terms of Hollywood's Writers Guild contract,
> which basically says that if you use a writer's work you have to pay
> them for it.

One example of this is the the movie "Miracle" about the USA Olympic,
gold medal, hockey team.

That movie was written by Mike Rich, same guy who wrote "Finding
Forester" and soon to be released "Firewall". But you will not see his
name in the credits. Here's what happened:

Apparently writer Eric Guggenheim pitched and wrote a screenplay about
the team. Rich was hired to write an alternate script since the
Guggenheim script was so poor. Not a single word was copied, Rich
started from scratch, and yet Guggenheim is listed as "writer."

The Screenwriters Guild arbitration process theory? Even though they
agreed that not a single word had been copied, the events depicted were
so close to the original, that the Miracle screenplay must be based on
the other work. (Mike Rich still got paid for his work per his
contract, he just could not be listed as the Screenwriter)

The Guild was completely deaf to the argument: "Well Duh! It's a
historical event, *any* screenplay must depict the same events . . ."
The Guild didn't care. (Note: I think it's a horrible precedent, it
means that you can not write a screenplay about a historical event
without either torturing the accuracy or risking that someone else will
have written something and get paid for it.)

Bottom line for OP: Copyright may not protect you, but Screenwriter's
Guild apparently has some real teeth.

JH

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