Say a movie came out nearly 10 years ago and it did poorly, and I wanted to make a re-creation of it as a sequel to the first one. I want a different movie company to make it instead of the other that made the first one, and I have it patented. Does that mean I’m stealing their idea? Will I get sued?
Yes, you’re stealing their idea. They made the first one, and if you try to make a sequel without securing their permission, they can and will sue you. A lot. Let’s review why.
For starters, movies are never patented. Patents protect inventions, like light bulbs and One-Click ordering on Amazon. Anything related to movies – from screenplays, to the score, to the final film – is covered by copyright. That’s what we’re really talking about.
Let’s say you wrote your fantasy sequel. You would automatically own the copyright on the words you wrote, but not on the underlying property – the characters, settings and plot of the first film. Even if that first movie wasn’t successful, the original studio still holds the copyright on those elements. No other studio on Earth will give you the money to make your movie until their legal department feels secure that you’ve obtained these rights from the original studio.
This is not idle legal speculation, incidentally. Sequels are made all the time in which Studio A is buying the remake rights from Studio B. The Terminator franchise has been through three different studios, as have the Hannibal Lecter movies.
Several years ago, I read a very good spec screenplay called ALIENS VS. PREDATOR. 20th Century Fox, which owns both franchises, decided not to buy it because they were developing their own script. The writer had nowhere else to sell it and was stuck with an interesting but somewhat useless writing sample.
So what should you, Shae Twon, do with your idea? If you feel like writing the screenplay, great, but be prepared to approach the original studio first. If they don’t want to make it, and no one else is willing to buy the rights from them, you’re screwed.