The ABC of Copyright: Take Ownership Of Your Story

It is difficult to protect an idea from being stolen. Take ownership of your writing and be aware of what your rights as a writer is.

There is only one foolproof way of protecting one’s script and that is to lock it in a safe place and never let anyone else see it. Any time you send a script to a producer or an agent, any time you post it on a website, or you let anyone read it, you run the danger of your idea being stolen.

There is a common misconception that copyright law protects ideas or concepts, which is not the case. I have clients who sometimes ask how they can protect the concept of their show or movie. I hate to break the news, but copyright law does not protect ideas but the expression of those ideas.

Having a mere logline and general story concept is not enough for copyright protection. For greater copyright protection, it is better to flesh out your story either through a synopsis or treatment. 

Copyright automatically comes into existence the moment:

  • Original work is created in a fixed form
  • Original work is put onto paper or computer memory in any form

The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who freely created it and continues for fifty years beyond the death of the author, at which time the copyright falls into the public domain.

  • The original author of a work owns the copyright to that work unless he or she has assigned those rights to a third party.
  • The work must be original. If you stole the plot from Shakespeare, you can’t copyright the plot, only the ways in which you creatively departed from Shakespeare’s work.
  • The work must not be based upon someone else’s work. The fact that it may be similar to many other stories does not mean it is not “original” for copyright purposes, so long as the author did not copy the work from another source.
  • The work must be the independent expression of the author. Only the expression, not the underlying ideas are protected.

How to protect your work

One of the easiest ways of registering and protecting your writing is to send a TOP SHEET. Writing a Top Sheet is covered in our The Write Journey course.