Friday, 28 October 2011

Tip #96: Can I protect my copyright?

By Dan Parkes (Director/editor)

It is a classic Hollywood horror story that has almost taken on mythical proportions in its retelling. Someone writes a great script and submits it to a studio. The studio replies that they are not interested. A year or so later the studio releases a film almost identical to the submitted script, except that it has now been written by someone else....

But is this something filmmakers should fear, their ideas being stolen? And what about once they have made their film, does it require copyright and some form of disc digital copyright protection to prevent piracy?

Stolen ideas
Fact: Script ideas are stolen. There is the example of Reed Martin who wrote a script and a Hollywood talent manager sent it to actors he'd liked to have in the film, including Bill Murray. After initial interest, it was eventually dropped...only for a film with an almost identical storyline and characters to be released. The film was Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray...

Of course, this is not the only example and there are regular law suits and allegations. But there could be logical reasons for this, that may not be down to plain and simple theft. There is the obvious fact that there's 'nothing new under the sun' and hence very few scripts can be labelled 'completely original'. There is also a term known as "parallel development" in which similar ideas are developed at the same time. Maybe something registered on a subconscious level in the minds of the director, producer, writer and so it not necessarily blatant stealing.

Balance is necessary
If you become paranoid about your script or idea being stolen and don't let anyone near it without having first signed a NDA etc, then the likelihood is -especially if you are a first time writer- that you will come off as extremely arrogant and overconfident and will never get your script read by those who could actually make it happen. There is an interesting blog at "Scriptxray" which states: "Your ideas will be stolen...and here’s why it's okay...As a people business where everything depends on who you know, it’s best to let your work get out there and be seen – if you don’t, its pretty much impossible to start your career." The article also mentions that "it’s actually more expensive for producers to steal a script than buying or optioning it legitimately – considering the legal fees and reputation damage." (To read more go here)

How to copyright
That doesn't mean to throw caution to the wind. There are a few simple steps to copyright your ideas and script, firstly by simply ensuring that a date, name and copyright symbol is clearly printed on your script. Although a copyright notice is not required, (work is automatically subject to copyright protection under law), displaying a notice shows that you have an awareness of copyright and take infringements of your work seriously.

You can take the extra step of registering your work, such as using a copyright service:

You can also date stamp your work by simply mailing it to yourself and not opening it. This is known as "poor man’s copyright" and there are issues and alternatives worth considering (check here)

If you are talking with a producer and they are comfortable doing it then there is nothing stopping you asking for a NDA to be signed.

Here is a copy of a NDA you can use: NDA template

DVD copright
Your artwork and the film itself can contain a copyright symbol and date, as well as a copyright warning at the beginning of the film. This can be sufficient but if you are wanting to actually prevent people from physically being able to copy your disc then this will involve CSS or Macrovision copy protection, which requires a pay per-disc royalty fee, and is something only available on professionally replicated discs.

Note: Of course this can cut both ways: Make sure you are not using copyrighted material or logos in your film or artwork (for more information check here) including the use of the DVD logo which is in itself copyrighted (more here)!

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