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Old 03-09-2017, 10:37 AM   #1
sfire8
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Default Copyrighting a treatment?

Hi,

I know this is a legal question and i need to ask a lawyer, but just wanted to know if anyone had experience with this?

I wrote a pilot and am currently developing a first season treatment with a production company. No contracts have been signed. I started with my treatment and of course, after much collaboration and back and forth, the producer as given input and the season has expanded. My question is...can I copyright the treatment, even though it includes some of the producers ideas?

This has actually been a wonderful experience, and nothing sketchy from them at all...I just want to make sure before I go ahead and do it?
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Old 03-09-2017, 12:44 PM   #2
UneducatedFan
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Yes but you can't copyright their ideas as your own. If you are taking a treatment that has your ideas and theirs then you need to get their permission to copyright it IMHO. I may be wrong but I think that's how it works. Never copyrighted a treatment though...
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Old 03-09-2017, 02:26 PM   #3
omjs
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Are they paying you for the treatment or is this a speculative type situation? Most paid gigs are done on assignment, which means they buy the material from you. Options or shopping agreements or whatever else are a different deal.
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Old 03-09-2017, 04:30 PM   #4
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

presumably you're developing this project with the production because the producer wants to make it? if it ever goes, they're going to own it (and pay you for it). don't copyright anything you've collaborated with them toward that end. they'll just have to transfer ownership back to them down the road if it does go and they'll probably think you're being Paranoid Crazy Writer, putting future collaboration potentially at risk
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Old 03-11-2017, 06:12 AM   #5
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

As a general rule: If they are paying you to write the treatment they own the copyright. If you are the sole original author you own the copyright. If you have written something which includes ideas or material they have provided you can not copyright it without their permission.

However, it all depends ... on a number of things. Which means that while the above is generally the case you should have professional legal advice on any contractual undertakings and it's wise to have a written agreement at the outset for any work you do in collaboration or as a contractor.
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Old 03-11-2017, 07:58 AM   #6
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

As you indicated in your first post, consult a lawyer. No sense on moving ahead with a project wherein the legal issues are muddied.
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Old 03-11-2017, 01:31 PM   #7
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Anything in law can be argued. I am not an attorney.

But here is what I have learned about copyright over the last few decades.

The fundamental concept underlying copyright is that ideas are not copyrightable, only the form of expression of an idea.

That is how you can have two films with the same basic plot ideas, and neither violates the copyright of the other.

In another thread TigerFang told an interesting story about the Lewis and Clark expedition. The story involved an Indian woman named Sacagawea, and another partially related story from the expedition dealt with a black man named York.

Anyone can write about those characters and the Lewis and Clark expedition, even if the stories turn out to be pretty similar. That is not just because these are historical figures, but because ideas are not copyrightable.

Where things get really fuzzy is in the area of "intellectual property" and for that you will need an attorney and you should get ready to spend mucho dinero. Copyright is cheap. Lawyers are not.

If TigerFang comes to me and pitches an idea about Sacagawea, does he have a claim to the story if I use it for my own screenplay? Right now, with the story as he presented it here, I would say no. He just gave us some historical facts.

But if TigerFang pitches the idea that Sacagawea hates her husband, because she is really a lesbian who feels that she should have been the leader of her tribe, and she enters into a conspiracy of some kind with York to establish minority rights on the expedition, then we might be moving toward some original ideas that would fall under the category of intellectual property unique things that TigerFang has shared with us as a proposed project. It is still not a copyright issue, but an issue of intellectual property.

For that kind of stuff, you definitely need an attorney who specializes in these things.

When you copyright a document like a treatment, your actual protection under copyright will be somewhat limited. The copyright may help to establish that you were working on a project and taking it in a particular direction, and that might be helpful in a suit involving theft of intellectual property. But it is not copyright law itself that helps it is the fact that the copyrighted document is a record of what you were doing at a particular time.

The OP mentioned that some of the ideas in the treatment came from the producer. Speaking strictly as a non-attorney and non-practitioner in the Hollywood scene, I suspect that you will never untangle the whole mishmash of ideas and claims to them, if the project ever becomes the object of legal dispute.

Again, just my opinions based on observations through the years.
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Old 03-12-2017, 09:50 PM   #8
sfire8
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Thanks so much for the responses. So it seems like I shouldn't copyright something they have given input on. So since the original pilot is already copyrighted, I should probably only copyright my first original treatment that was just my own.

They have not optioned/purchased the rights this material, so I just want to make sure the rights are still mine, despite their inclusion of new ideas.
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Old 03-13-2017, 03:20 AM   #9
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sfire8 View Post
So since the original pilot is already copyrighted, I should probably only copyright my first original treatment that was just my own.
It won't hurt you to do this if you have the money to do so. Nor is it necessary for you to affix copyright registration numbers to your treatment and pilot. It's the best type of registration for any legal reasons that may arise, which includes the terms and conditions of a sale. All the best to you.
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Old 03-17-2017, 02:43 PM   #10
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Default Re: Copyrighting a treatment?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sfire8 View Post
Thanks so much for the responses. So it seems like I shouldn't copyright something they have given input on. So since the original pilot is already copyrighted, I should probably only copyright my first original treatment that was just my own.

They have not optioned/purchased the rights this material, so I just want to make sure the rights are still mine, despite their inclusion of new ideas.
For what it's worth- I'd argue that you CAN'T copyright it if the other party truly has a meaningful part of the concept. That you're in essence be in the wrong by stating in the filing that it is your material alone.


In either case it seems like it could cause a fight with the producer that would hang like an albatross even if things go great for the project.

*NOT A LAWYER*
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