Copyright is a bundle of protections granted to the creator of a work. It doesn’t cover the pure idea (“Save the Last Dance with dinosaurs”); it covers the expression of the idea (your original, 120-page screenplay Dinosalsa: The Jurassic Dance).
There is no grand tradition of a “director’s pass.” When it happens, it’s because some directors (1) believe they can write and (2) believe they can fix the perceived problems in the script. They may say they want to “make it their own.” But underlying that is the fact that there’s something about the script that bugs them, and you haven’t been willing or able to address it.
I have very little patience for accusations that someone “stole my idea for a movie.” Or a TV show. But such complaints are common. Sometimes, it becomes a copyright lawsuit. More often, it’s a campaign of whispers.
Composer Jason Robert Brown is flattered young singers like his work, but wishes they wouldn’t pirate his sheet music.
Any work you’re not getting paid for should be yours and yours alone. That’s why aspiring screenwriters write spec scripts. That’s what you should focus on writing. Still, there may be situations in which it makes sense to write a script for someone else without getting paid.
When a novel is adapted into a film or television series, how does compensation to the writer of the original novel work?
You’re naturally going to be drawn towards real-life people who are fascinating. That’s a good thing. Observe behavior. Figure out motivations and pathology. Then forget the real person.
Producers and production companies aren’t necessarily going to be excited that someone else had the project before them. Yes, it validates their taste a bit, but they may worry that the script has already been burned out around town. If everyone has read it and passed, what are they going to do with it, exactly?
Chris works as an assistant at a studio? Do they own anything he writes?
ScriptShadow reviews scripts to upcoming movies. And that hurts screenwriters more than anyone.
No! Stop and re-assess. There are at least three options, but simply stealing the plot and characters isn’t one of them.
A reader asks if a planned DVD crosses into dangerous copyright territory.
Screenplays don’t cite references because they don’t quote things.
Yes, you can have characters talk about people like Michael Bay without getting permission.
Cory Doctorow makes many of the points I would about the Authors’ Guild’s grumpiness over the Kindle’s text-to-speech function.
Don’t just think about who “owns” what. There are more practical considerations.
Explorations of ownership in a corporate environment.
Killing backstories, writing out lyrics and why you will always want to be writing something else (amongst other topics), explored.
Steps a publisher can take to offer up properties to moviemakers.
If it’s you and a buddy with a tiny camera, should you really have to register with a governmental agency? I say no.
An episode of Grey’s Anatomy might have the same title as your spec. That’s not even close to being plagiarism.
Easy steps to tracking down rights.
If this sounds like you, stop reading and start dialing. You need a better attorney, stat.
Let’s say you’re at work and you overhear some great dialogue. Should you worry about co-workers suing when they hear it in your movie?
Do you need signed legal permission to use a friend’s name in a script?