So you’ve written that blockbuster screenplay or the best thing to hit the NY Times Best Seller list. Perhaps you’ve just polished up the next Emmy Award winning television show or Grammy Award winning song. What’s next?
The first thing you need to do is protect your work.
Be warned: You cannot protect ideas, which is why you should be careful with whom you share them.
Here’s an example:
Just about a year ago, MTV began production on a particular show. Sometimes when a show is pitched to the network and involves a major talent, the working title will consist of something simple. In this case it was along the lines of “The T.I. Project”.
Throughout the production and development of a television show, there are weekly or bi-weekly meetings.
During one of the meetings for the show, we began to think of a name. At that time, since the show was still in the creative phase and all we had was the synopsis to work with. We brainstormed based on the information we had. Several things were tossed around, and I threw my ring in the hat. “The Redemption of T.I.”. I was told that the show wasn’t so much about T.I. as it was about the children that he was helping. We left the meeting without a name and when we regrouped a few weeks later, we brainstormed about more names. I threw out “The. T.I.P. ing Point” – with TIP clearly referring to T.I.’s alias and the tipping point referring to the critical phase that the children were in during the time of T.I.’s intervention.
I was asked to e-mail my suggestion, as the final name had to be approved by T.I. and the production company.
About a week later, I was asked to attend a meeting outside of MTV to discuss the possibility of me personally creating a show around DMX. This was prior to his jail time in Arizona and he was believed to have had a change of heart and ready to make major changes in his life.
I immediately developed a show around him, and decided to name it “Redemption”, as the show would chronicle his past troubles and how he would redeem himself before his family, friends and the world. I worked rather speedily, as I got the call around 9pm on a Thursday and the meeting was at 12:00 noon, during my lunch the next day!
I IMMEDIATELY submitted my synopsis and episode summaries to the Writer’s Guild and the U.S. Copyright via their online portals.
A few weeks later, in a production meeting for “The T.I. project”, we learned the final name of the show. Yup.
“T.I.’s Road to Redemption”.
Had someone in the room even remembered the name I offered up previously? I don’t know. If you recall, that’s not the name I e-mailed in, because I was told they weren’t interested in that name. Does that mean I am currently engaged in massive litigation with MTV and the production company? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Because you can’t protect an IDEA!
Redemption was the IDEA, not the title I offered up for the show.
Notice in the above scenario, I describe to you a concept behind a television show that I created as well. What is stopping anyone else from contacting that artist and pursuing the same show concept with him? NOTHING.
In fact, you might be surprised to learn that several people had pitched the same type of show for DMX. Did anyone steal anyone’s idea? I doubt it. It made sense for that artist at that time.
For the past 9 years, I have worked on a book that details four generations of sexual assault in my family line. While most of it is based on true events, I had to make some changes to protect my family.
When I began writing the book, it was therapeutic. I haven’t completed it yet, and I randomly pull it out and work on it. I may decide one day to publish it.
Even thought it’s not yet completed, I have registered it with the Library of Congress.
So how do you decide when/what to protect?
The best rule of thumb is, when you have taken your project from an idea or concept and have details, i.e. chapter, i.e. synopsis, then you are ready to protect it.
What most people don’t realize is that the minute you write something, it is protected. According to the U.S. Copyright office:
By clicking on the embedded link above you will be directed to the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ’s.
What about Screenplays and Television shows? Do I additionally need to protect them with the Writer’s Guild?
I do! In fact, I often register with the Writer’s Guild BEFORE I register the copyright.
Two simple reasons:
One: It’s cheaper! To register with the Writer’s Guild costs $10 for members and $22 for non-members. To register with the U.S. Copyright Office there is a $35 basic claim fee.
Two: It’s quicker! Although you will get an electronic confirmation of your submission via both services, you will receive your registration certificate within DAYS from the Writer’s Guild. The U.S. Copyright takes weeks, sometimes months.
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