"Gird Your Loins," remember that scene from "The Devil Wears Prada?" As Meryl Streep's character approaches, Stanley Tucci's character yells to everyone in the office - "gird your loins." Basically it meant, steel yourself people, here comes Miranda the crotch kicking boss. It was a great way to introduce the character. But it got me thinking about the most frequent question I hear from new writers "How do I protect my work?" Let's talk about that.
Firstly, I am not an attorney, this isn't legal advice this is just stuff I've learned (my lawyer told me to write that.)
Copyright your work. Register it with the US Copyright Office.
Copyright protects "original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.” What that means is - you cannot copyright your idea for a movie; you can only copyright your expression of that idea in the form of the screenplay. YOU HAVE TO WRITE THE SCREENPLAY!
For years I was led to believe that registering your screenplay with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) was just as good. THAT IS INCORRECT. US Copyright registration is $35 and last's your lifetime plus 70 years. WGA registration is $10 for members, $25 for non-members and lasts 5 years. HMMMMMM! No brainer right.
US Copyright registration entitles you to sue for statutory damages if you feel someone has stolen the execution of your idea and to win attorney’s fees, should the court settle in their favor. WGA registration does not.
You've written your script (YAY!) maybe even re-written it 2 or 20 times and it's your baby, you have slaved over every word and it's ready, now all you need is someone to read it.
You pitch the idea - GASP and SWOON, someone wants to read it.
This is where the panic and paranoia set in.
What if they steal it?
In my mind I've already put a down payment on my Malibu dream house.
Oh GOD, they're gonna steal it.
I have to get them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement, they have to sign a contract that they won't share it with ANYONE. I can't breathe, there goes my Academy Award.
THEY'RE GONNA STEAL IT!!!!!
I'm gonna say this and some of you may not like it, no one will ever tell you this - thinking and acting like someone is going to steal your script makes you look like an amateur.
Stop worrying about people stealing your script. I'm not gonna tell you it doesn't happen, It just doesn't happen nearly as often as you've been led to believe.
This is an industry of collaboration and relationships. If you have talent people are excited to know you and excited about the possibility of what you can produce for them.
You have to get as many eyes on your story as humanly possible in order to get it to the person who is going to respond and want to get it made. And sharing is in itself, a form of protection. The more people that know about it, the harder it is for someone else to claim they wrote it.
Industry people know we writers will happily sell ourselves to the lowest bidders. So believe this - it is more effort to steal your story and try and get away with it, then it is to just buy it or even option it from you.
And if you just can't help yourself, keep track write down names and numbers and emails, number your scripts, keep a log, keep a journal. It's a good idea anyway so that you know who you've had contact with because remember you're building relationships.
Sharing your work also frees you of the concept that this is your one and only idea. You are a creative person, you'll have many, many, many ideas and stories to tell, don't get fixated on protecting just one.
So register and move on.
Gird Your Loins.
Think I'm wrong or right? Let me hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org