You have a great idea? Most people have a great idea, and unless you write your script, chances are your idea will be reabsorbed into the ether, until days/months/years later you discover you just paid $15 bucks to see “your movie script idea” screening at the local multi-plex.
How to copyright a script idea?
“Seriously? But my idea is really unique. Who wouldn’t want to see Bambi with Vampires? And I’m sure it’s never been thought of before.”
Bambi with Vampires does sound awesome.
Sorry, but no. While you can’t copyright a script idea, you can copyright an expression of the idea. You need to take that idea out of your head and translate it to a form before you can claim it as Intellectual Property (IP) and copyright the Mother.
“But that’s so unfair! I should be able to copyright a script idea!”
Just as a thought experiment…
What if God (any God, choose one), only thought about creation… He had the idea of man, woman, snake, goat, whatever… But didn’t actually create it. Oh, but he was getting to it… He had the idea, isn’t that enough?
Nope. Just having the idea is not enough for a God, and it is not enough for you.
When can I copyright my movie script?
What you need is your idea in a form: a painting, novel, poem, choreographed dance, whatever. How to translate your idea into an expression? Your idea is a lump of clay. The way you chisel that clay, mold and shape it into a form is your personal stamp. The more unique and fresh the expression, the more valuable your idea is when it’s time to bring to market.
Just remember: screenplay ideas, storyline ideas, etc. cannot be copyrighted. Get over it.
Where do ideas come from, anyway?
“When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.”
— Farkas Bolyai, to his son Janos, pushing him to claim the invention of non-Euclidean geometry before someone else, ASAP.
In a way, we can look at copyright law as it pertains to script ideas as Jungian in nature. Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious” in a nutshell is that every individual is born with an innate understanding of archetypes. Primordial images and archetypes are projected within the collective unconscious. Hence, every human being has a library card to the universal public library deep within. The living has inherited this universal knowledge from our ancestral past. Jung said these innate characteristics are “imprinted” – fear of the dark, snakes, spiders, heights, germs, Mother-in-laws – all of which are “ancestral memories” and form in our unconscious.
It’s cool to think about, and makes the inevitable less painful when someone does come up with a similar idea to yours, and gotten the project off the ground.
Have you and your friend every said the same thing at the same time? My Mom grew up with seven brothers and sisters, so the Jungian idea often happened. When it did – the proper response was to say “You owe me a Coke!” Whoever said this first, earned the Coke. I drink espresso, so I’d probably replace it with “You owe me an espresso!” So, pick your poison – Slushie? Cocaine? Your choice.
Multiple Discovery Happens all the Freakin’ Time
Multiple discovery, or “simultaneous invention” is the idea that most discoveries and inventions (in science, the humanities) are made independently, however more or less simultaneously by multiple originators. This is why you often see multiple Nobel Prizes being awarded to two parties for the same discovery.
– Newton and Leibniz discovered calculus independently.
– Likewise, Darwin and Wallace independently developed the Theory of Natural Selection.
So your Bambi with Vampires flick – believe it or not – could very well possibly already be in production, somewhere…
How to pitch a script idea?
Shhhh… I have a great screenplay idea…
But how do you know, really? Screenwriters who are serious about selling a spec pitch their idea first – it’s part of the process (of course, if you’re writing your script for personal reasons, or shooting it yourself than you may prefer not to lend a lot of credence to outside opinions).
Pitching your idea is fun, plus it’s great practice. Chances are, you’ll also receive valuable feedback from your listeners. They may even offer an idea or two that adds juicy layers to your script idea. Movies aren’t made in a vacuum – or a dust buster – and this certainly extends to script idea generation as well. Don’t waste time on writing a script for an idea that no one cares about anyway.
How to pitch a script idea steps:
- Come up with a logline.
- Keep your story under 30 seconds.
- Encourage comments. (i.e. what’s confusing about the idea?) That’s how your idea will get better.
How do I protect myself if I can’t copyright a movie script idea?
After you come up with a killer script idea, the next step towards protecting it is writing a synopsis and treatment. Your goal here is to write your idea in as much detail as possible. Consider what is unique about your idea when compared with other films. Is it the characters? The time period? The goal? The tone? Deep-dive into your story and dredge out the blood and guts.
How many pages? Shoot for 5-10 pages.
Sounds too much? Hmmm… Then you may need to reconsider if you really have an idea on your hands. Remember, your movie script idea will eventually be 90-115 pages, so surely you can write up a handful of pages. Does it have to be in script format to count? No, however consider writing it out as an outline or beat sheet to really break the idea down into all the moving parts. This demonstrates that you’ve fleshed that nugget of an idea out into an actual, living and breathing thing.
After you write your treatment, or better yet – script, you will want to know how to copyright your screenplay online. As a struggling screenwriter, you will likely want to know how much does it cost to copyright your script.
Now, once you have a screenplay in hand and are ready to say, “I do” – legislatively speaking, copyright your script and send it out into the big wide world.
You know what “it” means. IT is when YOUR IDEA has been produced, received massive accolades, dollars, and awards. Of course, it was made by someone else and not you.
Is it time to panic? Sue their pants off? Give up screenwriting altogether?
Of course not. Give yourself a pat on the back and realize that your ideas are in the zeitgeist. You managed to identify what the system was looking for, and there’s a good chance that you will be able to hit that bulls eye again.
Hopefully this article has armed you with more knowledge and confidence. Next time a friend asks you how to copyright a script idea, you’ll have an answer ready.
Written by: Mich Medvedoff