Balls of Steel: Is Our Work Safe?

Last week, screenwriter Chad Diez tweeted, “Can’t trust anyone.” Being recently screwed over myself, I reached out to Diez, asking what happened. He fears a script he wrote in 2007, and pitched around town, has been ripped off and produced without him.

This led to the question we all ask, “Is our work safe?”

Coincidentally, another Chad wrote a great piece for, “The Truth About Protecting Your Work.” Of course, I’m speaking of columnist Chad Gervich. If you want to know all the legalities, it’s a valuable read.

But today, I simply want to discuss if any of you share the same fears.

All the pros tell us it’s amateurish and paranoid to think our ideas, characters, and plots will be lifted. I tend to agree, but every once in a while you hear of a story where theft is in question.

Diez sent a link to just a story from The Bay Citizen, titled “Local Novelist Fights Hollywood, and Faces Long Odds.” The novelist alleges his book’s characters and plot were heisted by Sony and turned into the film Premium Rush.

Just writing those words sent chills up my spine.

Where do you draw the line between being naive, paranoid, and just plain stupid?

I don’t have the answers, but I’d welcome hearing what you do to protect yourself. I always register my scripts with WGA. It makes me feel safe … even if it’s only a mirage.

However, a script is different than an idea. Ideas aren’t protected.

I see people on Twitter and Facebook, sharing loglines. I even have one Twitter follower who tweets out a new logline every single day. Not me. Not in a million years. I know, I know … it’s the execution of the idea that’s valuable, not the idea itself. But still.

Every time I see a writer sharing a story idea publicly, I wonder what benefit is in it for them to post a logline? I’m not being judgmental here. I sincerely want to know if there is indeed real value for the writer. If so, what is it?

I admit, I worry about people taking my ideas, but I’m not worried about people stealing scripts I have already written and pitched. No one has my writing voice. Period. Let’s take Diablo Cody’s Juno. We’ve all seen teen pregnancy stories before, but none like hers. Why? Because Cody has a talent for dialogue and creative characters. Her writing is what made that story great. You can’t steal that.

Bottom line, in my writing world, I don’t spend my time in fear someone might steal my ideas. I spent my time being productive and pumping those scripts out. My job is to keep writing as many original, interesting, well-written stories as I possibly can – fearlessly.

Maybe that’s the key: writing without fear. Not only will it keep us moving forward toward our goals, but it’ll also make our stories that much more interesting. Imagine never fearing a word you put on the page.

Now that would be some ballsy script … and a writer no one would dare steal from. Just sayin’.

What are your thoughts on script theft? How do you protect yourself? Are you even worried about theft? Help us all out and share your comments below.

12 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Is Our Work Safe?

  1. romona robinson

    This was a good one JVB! Informative and enjoyable as usual. I don’t play with the took me too many hours during lunch breaks practicing over and over again and learning to just be dropping them casually around. *Mo don’t play that…* Copyright it alllll…

  2. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Indie Exec, thank you for posting the link to Everything is a Remix. Brilliant insights.

    I was in LA last month pitching what I thought was a completely original, ingenious show, and before I even left the city, one of my fellow writers shared with me he was two years into developing the same nugget of an idea and was going out with it the following week. When I got home, I heard of two more shows with similar concepts being pitched… and a network had already bought one of the pitches. None of us stole from each other. It was just coincidence. Which is exactly why we need to focus on making the execution of our ideas the “original” part.

    I truly appreciate your input on this subject.

  3. Pingback: Marilyn & a new Sense of Cinema | The Cinephile

  4. Indie Exec

    Everything is a Remix: The elements of Creativity

    Don’t give up after the credits roll halfway through. After the first session it goes into film, lit, etc and how ideas seem to come from the zeitgeist.

    Yesterday I was pitched an idea that I know two different writers are tackling the same subject. The nugget of the idea is the same across all three projects, but the voice and the execution of the idea is completely different between the three. Did anyone rip anyone off? No. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Hell, I have a list that is nearing 100 TV and film ideas.

    I could give an idea to two different writers and end up with two different scripts. So go out there. Be creative and have fun.

  5. Megan Drapalski

    Another great read Jeanne!

    I try not to worry about people stealing my ideas simply because I know that I’ll always have more. I don’t like to live my life paranoid and I don’t think I do my best work when I spend more time worrying about what people might take then the writing itself. I ask almost every willing person I know for thoughts because at the end of the day the most unexpected person might have the thought that takes the script to the next level.

    I’m sure this is quite naive and, at this point, I’m yet to get anywhere where people would try to steal my ideas but I’d like to think I’ll keep this mindset should I ever be there. Don’t get me wrong, should I get to that stage I will definitely be taking steps to protect my work but for now I’m going to try and just focus on the writing. Whatever happens happens.

  6. Unknown ScreenwriterUnk

    Unfortunately, it happens a lot more than people think or the Pros [sic] like to admit. There are plenty of producers out there shopping for IDEAS as they know more than enough screenwriters who couldn’t come up with an idea to save their ass to write it up for them. Often for pennies.

    It’s truly best to officially copyright your screenplay… That’s the only real way to easily win in court on the off chance somebody steals the and transcribes ENOUGH of what you put into the script to make it theft.

    WGA registration is good but not as good a registering your copyright… Additionally, if you’ve really outdone yourself with your script i.e., its characters and world, a copyright actually gives it more intrinsic value believe it or not.

    If all this fails…

    There’s always a visiting the offender’s home or place of business and explaining how things are in the real world.

    I find that always works best.

    Last but not least… This is not written about ENOUGH. It’s actually one of Hollywood’s dirty little secrets.


  7. Michelle K Hanley

    I agree with Michael, I don’t live in NY or LA so I’m writing and sharing information via Twitter and my Website to introduce myself and learn from others in the industry. No one knows the characters and scenes I have in my screenplay but me, so far I’ve only given a few details.

    If someone steals my idea or logline, then maybe I can use their movie as a reference point to help sell mine. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like a comparable success story is something commonly looked for when trying to get a movie made. For instance, my professor told me this when I sent in potential loglines for Bad Grandpa; “It appears to be a new “take” on the older “God” movies that were out long ago in which God tried to help a guy with his life.”

    I’m interested to see what others have to say about this.

  8. Michael Kempesta

    I don’t live in LA nor am I in the industry, so I don’t feel too paranoid about talking about my ideas with others.
    I agree that writing without fear, but with inspiration, is key.
    Steve Jobs quotes are all over the internet right now. Here is one that speaks to this situation:
    “Have the courage to follow your heart & intuition. They already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

  9. Indie Exec

    The linked article regarding the Premium Rush/Ultimate Rush lawsuit is a good read, but not as good as one of the comments that links to the actual filed lawsuit. As Jeanne said, ideas are not copyrightable, but the execution is.

    In the filed lawsuit, you can see scenes, dialogue, characters, etc that the author feels was lifted from his manuscript. It’s a fascinating read to figure out what a lawyer would consider lifted even with a little creative spin on the character, line or scene.

    Also, a recent ScriptNotes podcast from Craig Maizen and John August tackled this very subject. This is why writers should protect themselves with a COPYRIGHT from the Library of Congress… not just register your script with the WGA. The LOC copyright will hold up in a court of law more than the registration with the guild. Also you’ll need a Copyright if you sell your script, as a clear chain of title will be needed for E&O insurance.

    But in the end… if you were going to rip-off a book about messengers (inline skates in SF) called Ultimate Rush, would you really title your script Premium Rush?!?! C’mon. Koepp is smarter than that. Don’t make it blatantly obvious, even if you changed the mode of transportation and the city…

  10. lee

    I’m studying for a law degree so I just figure that I could cost a company more in legal fees than it would cost them to work with me. Plus I’m lovely so they miss out twice if they choose not to work with me!