Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Being Professional Part 2

Copyright matters, but only to new writers it seems. New writers go to great lengths to copyright their scripts, using the circled C symbol, their name and the year, and making sure there is one on every page of their script. Even I have been guilty of this until recently. So why, as new writers, are we so paranoid about our working being stolen? The answer is simple; we're being unprofessional.

I can't remember where I read it, or who wrote it, but I once read an article about copyright, in which the author pointed out that the only people to make any money from infringement of copyright were lawyers. Can you think of any case where someone successfully sued for copyright infringement, because I can't?

It makes sense to assume that the large majority of producers, or production companies, would never dream of trying to steal a writer's idea, because if they were found out their reputation would be in tatters, and no one would want to work with them in the future. So why send out scripts covered in the copyright symbol? Copies of Hollywood scripts I've read are surprisingly copyright free. Besides, copyright infringement is near on impossible to prove legally.

I've also learnt that you can't copyright an idea, because let's face it with the millions of writers and film makers out there two people are bound to stumble on the same idea independently. Let's take Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Tombstone for instance. Two Hollywood films released at around the same time, both of which had rival productions; Robin Hood and Wyatt Earp. You didn't hear them scream 'Copyright Infringement'.

There are two ways you can protect your ideas as a writer. The first is the most simple; don't tell anyone about, or show them, your idea. The second is to write down your idea in as much detail as possible, that way if someone does copy your idea you have safeguarded your version of it. Once it's written down in detail it becomes your intellectual copyright. You don't need the copyright symbol to tell everyone that.

To safeguard your finished script there are several options. The first is to register it with the Writer's Guild of America for which you have to pay. There are also British companies offering this service, but again you have to pay and to be honest they are only taking advantage of new writers' paranoia. The best and cheapest way to protect your script is to post a hard copy to yourself, and don't open it when it arrives.

Otherwise stop worrying about copyright. Seriously, remove the copyright symbols from every page of your script (leave one on the title page if you're really that paranoid). Producers will only think you're unprofessional if you leave them there when you send out your scripts. They think like this; Copyright symbols on every page = New Writer = Crap Script = Bin.


Lucy said...

New writers sometimes want me to sign an NDA before I read it for them to do development notes. Really. I always decline and see if they still want me - if not, i know they were going to be a bit of a diva. I'm not against NDA's if a script is in production, 'cos I've read some secret-squirrel things too, but generally (and it IS a generalisation), I find those who go mental about copyright are those with the least original ideas.

Gary James said...

I'm used to hearing the same thing with literature, especially from very new writers who start posting long rough chapters of their first novel on internet newsgroups. The answer is always the same - nobody's reading it, let along thinking of stealing it.

A bit harsh, perhaps, but a fair point all the same. I think most writers are far too pre-occupied with their own material to steal yours.

Tim Clague said...

Correct Dom. I've seen too many scripts go unmade because writers were 'too scared' to send them out. Certainly more than I've seen stolen.