Protecting a Script or Screenplay
November 9, 2011
Hollywood is a den of thieves, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and anyone attempting to break into the film industry might be aware of the importance of protecting a script from being ripped off outright, or even just shamelessly imitated without compensation to the originator of the filmic concept.
The simplest and most effective way of protecting a script is to register it with the Writers Guild of America, but this by no means offers an intellectual property blanket protection. One must be constantly cautious with whom one shares an idea for a movie, because while there are laws barring outright theft of a registered property, it’s practically Hollywood tradition to steal the premise of a script and then stuff it into slightly altered plotline without paying the creator a single dime.
So in order to make sure one is truly protecting a script, one should first seek out the counsel of an experienced screenwriter, hopefully one with whom the aspirant can develop a one-on-one mentoring relationship. This more seasoned professional can help steer the relative newcomer toward the agents and the executives with a reputation for fairness and probity (and yes, such people do exist in La La Land, but one must put in some real effort to find them). Even if a screenwriter can locate such a beneficent potential buyer, there are pitfalls lying around every turn.
While the exec may honor and respect the author’s rights to his or her work, this doesn’t mean the exec’s assistant, or the exec’s partners, or even the exec’s cleaning service won’t swipe the work and pawn it off as his or her own (and yes, cleaning services actually have been known to steal scripts off the desks of studio chiefs).
One low-tech way to protect a script is to watermark each page with the name of the buyer to whom it has been sent, and to send all content in hard copy rather than electronic format, as there is no way then for a potential thief of that intellectual property to steal it without leaving some sort of trail. If this all sounds highly paranoid, that’s only because it is, but in the jungles of Hollywood, a screenwriter must take every possible precaution and anticipate any and all dangers to the safety of his or her work if he or she wants to be sure of successfully protecting a script so that credit can be given where credit is due, and perhaps more importantly, making sure payment arrives where payment is due.