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Protecting Your Pitches

When a writer or filmmaker conceives a great idea for a film and wants to pitch it, he or she is sometimes fearful that it can be stolen and made into a film. Many of us have heard stories by people who claim that a particular film was really based on their conception, and that someone else must have stolen it. Some writers and filmmakers, in response to this apprehension, decide to keep their thoughts for a film top secret. Obviously, this approach may be problematic since some form of disclosure will be required to elicit the interest of others.

When I hear someone tell me that they have a great concept for a film, and that they would like to protect it prior to disclosing it to a third party, I usually refer to basic copyright principles.

Copyright protection does not protect an idea, but rather such protection exists only for works fixed in tangible form. This means that a writer or filmmaker should record his or her idea onto some tangible medium for it to be protected. A few easy ways to protect your idea includes:

  • Writing it down (i.e. fixing it in material form);
  • Registering the written material with the copyright offices in the U.S. or Canada, or other applicable offices around the world;
  • and the inexpensive method of putting the written material in an envelope and mailing it to yourself by registered mail; however, care should be taken to not open the envelope.

Most of us know that during a pitch, there is usually little or no time to procure the necessary legal documentation to ensure that your idea will not be used without your consent.

Moreover, even if a writer or filmmaker had the documentation readily available, a producer may be put off by the notion that a writer or filmmaker thinks that the producer is a person capable of theft, and therefore the producer may refuse to hear the pitch. And it is in these situations that writers and filmmakers may be apprehensive about sharing, especially when they have not taken steps to protect their interests, as mentioned above.

However, all may not be lost in the absence of an express written agreement that protects your rights. There may be a way to argue your idea for a film is confidential information and an implied contract exists between you and the producer or other third party whereby the latter party owes you a duty not to disclose such confidential information without your permission and if the producer or other third party uses your information, then you will be compensated for it.

Although the fear of pitching in the absence of an express written agreement can lead some writers and filmmakers to completely refrain from pitching, learning about ways to protect your rights may help alleviate such fears, and ultimately, help you get your idea out there.

This article was written by Jindra Rajwans, a business and entertainment lawyer based in Toronto, Canada. The information in this article is not intended to be legal advice and is of a general nature. Consult a lawyer for advice for any specific situation.

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