MOVIE IDEAS… (How to Protect & Write ideas and, if needed, Sue and Win.)
by Dov S-S Simens on August 21, 2019
STEALING MOVIE IDEAS
OK. OK. You’ve read Hollywood is looking for the great idea…and Yes, you have it.
However, your idea is just a thought… it’s not a finished script, it’s not even a Treatment… it’s just a thought. But you ran into someone at Starbucks (Brentwood, NoHo or WeHo) told them your great idea with the person remarking “You know who would like that…?”
Fast forward two-weeks, and reading Variety you see an article about what a Studio is about to make and you go “OMG… Oh My F*ckin’ God…that’s mine… that’s my idea” pause and mumble again that “that’s my idea… that’s my idea… they stole my F*ckin’ idea.”
(“1 million people/day at Starbucks, waiting for Latte, have a movie idea….now what?”)
Do you have any idea (pun) how many times I hear “Dov… I need help…Somebody Stole My Idea”?
I just can’t stand this whining anymore (Yes, I wake up cranky today).
Further the most common e-mail I get from wannabees is about… “Your idea might be stolen” and the second most common is asking me… “Do you know a good attorney”.
Oh Jesus! I’m cranky today. So Watch out!
I’m gonna hold-no-punches and it’s time that you hear this… “Ideas are important. Very important. And yours better be great. But no one owns… no one… absolutely no one owns an idea and once you tell it to someone, and you don’t own it, they can do it without you.”
So, the question becomes, “How does one own an idea?”
HOW TO OWN A MOVIE IDEA
An idea is a thought and no one owns a thought.
Here’s a thought… Manhattan, you know that island we bought for $24 bucks, has little space and a lot of tourists, so let’s build tiny, pre-furnished apartments (250-400 sft) for $300-400/sft, with all wifi, AI, 4K Screens, built in furniture, massage chairs and every piece of electronic gadgetry created, with a communal kitchen, that we sell to broke Millenials, with zero-down, for $500-700/sft ($125K-$280K, make a quick profit, with an AirBnB deal and rent them to tourists ($100-$150/night), when the Millenial (50-50 split) is travelling or shacking with another Millenial, for added revenue and call them “Miniums”.
Now that a great idea.
Well I’m the one that had it so “I own it.” Thus, every small condominium in NY rented through “airBnB” to a tourist when not being used is mine. I was wondering “Does anyone know a good attorney”.
Point; that was just my idea, good or bad, but I don’t own anything.
(“Shakespeare created the 22 Master Plots. Now make your idea greater than Shakespeare’s”)
An idea, is merely a thought and there are probably 20,000 other people with the exact same idea (thought)… You are not the center of the universe. And whatever stimulating you into this thought is stimulating millions of other people at the same time… You are not the only one with this thought.
QUESTION: So when does an idea become own-able & have value?
ANSWER: When it is a thing!
Again, no one owns a thought. However, implementation of that thought into a tangible form (a treatment, even better a script) becomes something that one can own and one can sell… which means, “Shut up and write”.
Let’s start from the end…You have this great thought…this great idea.
You have been talking it for a year or two; you’ve been fleshing it out in your head for two-three years; you can even prove the first time 4 years ago you mentioned it to someone, and then one day you turn on tv, or go to the movies, and “F*ck, that’s my idea.”
You wait for the credits, hoping that you see a name of someone you talked to….and you see a name.
So what are you going to do? Answer is, you’ll probably e-mail me for a recommendation for an attorney, which I won’t give, then you chat someone else, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows an attorney in Hollywood.
You call the attorney and explain how “So & So, at NBC, or Sony, or Disney, screwed you.”
The attorney calms you down, after discerning the movie studio in question has an insurance carrier, and quietly ask for 3 things.
The 3 things needed to sue & win are… (1) “Creation”, (2) “Submission”, and (3) “Similarity”.
PROOF OF MOVIE IDEA OWNERSHIP
(“To prove ownership you should have a registered Treatment and a Copyrighted Script… )
1st: CREATION: You must have proof that you created something with a date attached.
Key phrase is “Date Attached”.
That’s why everyone says (A) Register your idea with the Writers Guild ($20-$25) and (B), if you can, get it Copyrighted ($45-$60) with the Library of Congress’s copyright office… for you will get “dates attached”.
But you can’t just register a thought. You need more. You can, however, register a Treatment, if you wrote one, with the WGA… Thus, “Move your fingers and write a Treatment of your idea.”
To write the treatment. Start with 3 sheets of paper.
Call the top of half of Page-1 the Beginning, or Act I and type 3-4 lines describing the %W’s & H (Who, What, Where, When, Why & How).
Call the bottom half of Page-3 the Ending and type 3-4 lines with the crisis and resolution Act III and show how the 3 sub-plots come together.
Call the bottom of Page-1, all of Page-2, and the top of Page-3 Act II, or the Middle, and create your roller coaster ride of Ups-and-Downs.
Next, take what you have now typed, along with a title page and register it ($20 & $25) with the Writers Guild of America.
Next: You cannot copyright a Treatment with the Library of Congress; thus to say your idea is copyrighted you take your idea, in Treatment form, and use it as the framework to write a Screenplay… You can copyright a screenplay, with a date attached.
The dates of the Registration and Copyright give you “proof of Creation”.
Always remember if you write it, and register it today… Then give it to someone, an ass-hole, and they, as you say, “Changed it a little”, they will register what they tweaked, at the Writers Guild in their name.
Now, see the DATE YOU REGISTERED IT.
Now, see the DATE THE A-HOLE REGISTERED IT.
The A-Hole cannot turn back the clock. Only Superman flying counter-clockwise around Earth trying to save Lois Lane can turn back the clock.
Thus, it is easy for you to prove you created it first….if you actually created it first & registered it first!
2nd: SUBMISSION: You must also demonstrate you actually gave/presented/pitched your idea (registered treatment or copyrighted script) to the person/company you are suing.
Thus, always, upon talking to anyone, even while on line at Starbucks, if you tell them your idea, get their business card and within 1-day send them a dated letter or e-mail, with their name in it, stating “How you enjoyed the business meeting about your upcoming project….”, with your name & address on the mast head) “and look to further discussions with their company making your project real…”.
Mail the letter but keep a photocopy for your files… The photocopy of the dated letter… is proof of submission.
IMPORTANT POINT: Do not. I repeat… Do not do what is called the “Poorman’s Copyright”, where you mail yourself a copy, have it delivered postmarked, file it and never open it.
Why? Because this is not proof… this has NO MERIT in court… This is counter-productive for you have a false-sense of security and do not do what is proper and register it with the Writer’s Guild or copyright it, if script form, with Library of Congress.
You are screwing up, by getting lazy, with the “Poorman’s Copyright”.
(“90-120 page scripts, even based on the same thought are amazingly different… now write and be unique”)
3rd: SIMILARITY: This is what separates the men from the boys. How are you going to show what-they-made is what-you-created.
For this you need actual writing.
Thus, take your thought (aka: idea) which no one owns, write it (two-three pages double-spaced typing), into a Treatment, that you register (Library of Congress will not copyright a Treatment but the Writers Guild will register it) and flesh it out by first getting 2-3 written opinions (aka: coverage) from people you paid with dated checks, then write, re-write and copyright the script (screenplay) that you have written.
You can now show your attorney (A) Registered Treatment, (B) Coverage and (C) Copyrighted Screenplay, with dates attached, and subpoenas the script and treatments, with dates, from the person/company that you are suing.
Now, the attorney gets a copy of the screenplay, who you are suing, and matches it line-by-line-by-line and if there are at a minimum 10-20% of the lines that are near identical you have a solid case of demonstrating “Similarity”.
Now, with you showing proof of CREATION, SUBMISSION & SIMILARITY your attorney takes the case on commission (30%), sues and probably collects 10-20 times more money from the insurance carrier for you than if they would have paid to buy your idea.
However, if you have only had a thought, an idea, and nothing more…then stop being a wimp, go to your keyboard, move your bloody fingers and create.
Writers-Write & Thinkers-Think… AndiIf you desire to make money with a profitable career in Hollywood you must write… I told you I was cranky.
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14 comments on “MOVIE IDEAS… (How to Protect & Write ideas and, if needed, Sue and Win.)”
I don’t understand why anyone would register anything with the guild when you can get a copyright.
Copyrights can be stolen too. I was told by a lawyer that I gave a “gift” to the Director of Documentary acquisition for Warner in 2009. [Because we had no prior contact before our 1st meeting] Hence the Lord Blackwood character in Sherlock Holmes and the Mentalist TV program where they borrowed snippets from my novel for many episodes including plot twists and even paged me by name in the beginning of one episode and having me the great nephew as the “killer” in another.. Best to get an agent.