Photo by Frank McKenna. San Diego, CA. blog.frankiefoto.com
Written by Scott Spears
I get this question a lot from fledgling screenwriters:
I want professionals in the industry to read my script, but I want to insure my idea won’t be stolen. What should I do?
I can understand some degree of nervousness about letting your baby out into the world. But if people with influence who can to turn your script into a film don’t see your script, what good does that do you? At some point, you have to let your script go, like a child, out into the world to be exposed to the light.
Here are some steps that may help calm your nerves.
There’s the “poorman’s” or “poor woman’s” self copyright which involves sending the script to yourself via registered mail and not opening it, using the postage stamp date as a record of when you wrote the script. It probably will not hold up in court if somebody really wants to fight you, but it could frighten bottom feeding producers. It’s better than nothing.
You can copyright your script with the Library of Congress. The cost is approximately $35. Here’s a link with more information on how to do this: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl35.pdf
You can register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America, and it costs $20. Here’s a link to their site: https://www.wgawregistry.org/.
Some writers talk about putting a contract in place before handing their script off to somebody. This contract is called an “NDA” (Non-Disclosure Agreement). It basically says that the reader cannot discuss the script or its contents or even that they’ve read the script under penalty of law and can possibly be sued. I cannot recommend this path because it could scare away your reader. Nobody likes being accused of being a possible idea thief. I’ll be honest, this usually screams amateur hour to the potential reader. Everybody likes to feel that their script contains the most original ideas in the world, and everybody will want to steal these special ideas. But I have literally read thousands of scripts. I think I’ve read maybe 2 to 3 scripts which have contained what I called at the time, “a cool new idea for a movie that I have not seen before”.
So, my advice is to relax and take a step back. Go through this list of questions or do the following research on the person who will be reading your script.
- Who is this person?
- Do you know them?
- Does your connection to the person know them well?
- Do they have a track record?
- What will you get out of this interaction?
- And this is a toughie because it requires self evaluation: Is your script idea so revolutionary that somebody would want to steal it?
In the end, you may just have to send them the script and hope for the best. Story ideas are rarely stolen because Hollywood is full of thousands of writers pitching their ideas every day. Thousands of scripts are floating around on any given day. The chance of somebody swiping your concept is going to be very remote. If it gets out that they are stealing concepts or scripts, they will most likely be sued and their careers will be damaged or just plain over. So, don’t be fearful about sending your babies out into the world. If you feel the need to copyright your script or register your script with the WGA, the above are options to give you some protection.
Scott Spears is an Emmy Award winning Director of Photography with 18 features under his belt. He’s also written several feature screenplays, some of which have been made into movies. You can learn more about him at www.scottspears.net.
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