The next series of posts will provide a starting point for our friends in the movie/television/music industries for further research regarding how to protect their intellectual property. This is not legal advice and I encourage you to speak with a lawyer before you start drafting your own legally binding documents.
As we’ve discussed before, contracts may be either oral or written. The laws of oral and implied contracts provide the basis for protecting your intellectual property. One of the premises of copyright law is that ideas are not protected because they are an expression of an author. However, copyright laws do protect embellishments. So, while you can’t protect an idea, you can protect the expression of an idea. In essence, you can embellish on an idea to your heart’s content. This is how we see Netflix release Transmorphers alongside Transformers.
This presents a problem for up and coming media moguls. How do you pitch an idea to someone without having it stolen? At first glance, it seems like copyright protection doesn’t really prevent the unethical theft of brilliant concepts.
Contract law solves this dilemma. Contracts can protect ideas. Obviously, the strongest protection is to strike up a non-disclosure agreement for a producer to sign. In reality, this is a non-starter and makes you look hostile. The better way of protecting yourself is to ask, “if you decide to use my idea, are you open to providing me reasonable compensation?” [Okay, you can put it into better parlance than that, but you get the point.] If the producer shakes his head “Yes,” then you have an oral agreement. This is technically a contract that can protect your idea. If the producer declines to agree, then depart and take your idea elsewhere.
The only problem with an oral agreement is proving its existence. This is where the help of a witness comes in. If multiple people swear under oath that they heard the producer agree to your question, then you’ve got a strong case in court that you have a valid contract. Or, you may want to follow up with the producer after your meeting confirming the terms to which you agree orally.
Other problems arise if the producer then tells your idea to someone else who then steals your idea. You can protect against this by asking the producer not to share your ideas with anyone else. It’s literally that simple.
*All this information can be found in Mark Litwak’s tome here.