While ideas do sometimes get stolen, it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think, and it’s something that worries beginner writers much more than experienced professionals. (What follows is a very general guide to the legal situation, but if are concerned, as with any other legal matter you must consult an experienced media lawyer).
The first thing you need to know is that there is no copyright in ideas, only in how they are developed and recorded in some form (written, photographed, etc).
You should not talk about your ideas too freely until you have developed them as fully as possible. In any case, you are unlikely to find even development funds for them until you have written at least one draft of the script (see below). Furthermore, too much talk can lessen the pressure on yourself to finish the writing. However, once the script is written, you will need to pitch it. Don’t over-agonise about the risks. Everyone pitches. If you pitch to responsible, legitimate industry professionals, the chances of them stealing an idea you have already developed to script is small.
If you are really concerned, then ideas can be covered by the law of confidentiality. Politely make it clear that your pitch is made in confidence, perhaps in a letter before or after the meeting. But don’t be aggressive or legalistic – it looks amateur.
Anything you have developed, eg: written down in detail, from synopsis to script, is however covered by the law of copyright. The more detailed the better. Your rights are automatic – you don’t even need to put the copyright symbol on. However, if you think your script has been plagiarised you will need to be able to prove you wrote yours first.
Again, this doesn’t happen often, but if you are worried there are a couple of things you can do in advance. You can post yourself your script in a sealed jiffy – taped over with signatures over the tape to show it has not been tampered with. Make sure you use a postal service that registers the date of delivery and keep it unopened. If you ever need it for legal reasons, you will need to open the envelope in front of a lawyer. There are also organisations which will receive and register your script for a small fee. Google “script registration” to find one that suits you.
Written by Charles Harris
(With permission by www.euroscript.co.uk)