How to Protect Your Material
How often is material stolen in the film, TV and book business?
The vast majority of people working in these fields are honest. However, unfortunately in every business there are people who steal. Once in a while you read about such cases in the media but others are kept quiet as a condition of the settlement.
If you’re an insider, you hear rumors about these people—for instance, when I was working in Hollywood, everybody knew that there was one producer (since retired) who was notorious for stealing ideas, and also one actor/comedian. But generally you have no way of knowing who to trust, so it’s a good idea to take sensible precautions.
Has it happened to you?
Yes, at least twice. In one case that I’ll tell you about below, I lost potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars because I didn’t know how to handle it and listened to bad advice.
What can be protected?
First, let me tell you what can’t be protected: a general idea.
For instance, let’s say you tell someone you are writing a book about a modern-day witch who uses her power to get elected as President. A year later you read that this person has written a book with that story line. Because it’s just a general idea, if you sued you would be unlikely to win.
This happened to me—that actor/comedian read my film script, rejected it, but some time later used a scene from it as the basis of a comedy sketch that he did on a national TV show. But he’d just taken the basic idea and given it his own twist, so I wouldn’t have had a strong case.
What you can protect is the specific expression of an idea.
Going back to our example, let’s say that you’ve written an outline for a book or film in which a woman inherits a book of spells from her great-grandmother. She uses a spell to get elected as Mayor of her small town. She gets frustrated with how little power a Mayor has and decides to use the spell to get elected President of the United States. It works, but once she’s in office she realizes she doesn’t really know what she’s doing and that her Vice President is corrupt. She has to find a group of other modern-day witches to undo the spell and restore things to the way they were.
A year later, someone who read that outline but rejected the project announces a book or film with all those elements. Now you have a good case—if you’ve taken the proper precautions.
That’s what happened to me the other time I mentioned. I wrote a screenplay and through a personal connection got it to a top star, who rejected it. About 18 months later a film came out that had not only the same basic idea but also most of the specifics in my screenplay. I would have had a great case but I listened to bad advice (see below).
What can I do if someone steals my project?
If you can show that you had the story first, that the person who stole it had access to your story, and that he or she copied not only the basic idea but also the expression of it, you have a good case and can go to a lawyer who specializes in such lawsuits. In many instances they will take these cases on contingency—that is, you don’t have to pay unless they win, and then they take a pre-arranged percentage of the award.
How much would I get if I win such a case?
How much you are awarded depends on a lot of factors. If the person who stole your project has made a lot of money from it, your settlement is likely to be large. In some situations punitive damages could also be awarded. The settlements in the cases that have been reported go from thousands to millions of dollars. In some cases, the person or company settles out of court for a major sum but makes it a condition that you don’t talk about it to anyone.
Won’t I get blacklisted if I sue a big company or a famous person?
That’s where the bad advice I took comes in. My agent at the time didn’t want me to pursue a case against the star and the movie studio. He said I’d just be considered a trouble-maker and might not be able to work in the business again. I now believe he was protecting himself, not me. He didn’t want to risk damaging his relationship with the studio and there was nothing in it for him if I won the case.
Yes, if you file cases frivolously (and there are people who do that, just hoping to be paid to go away) it can give you a bad reputation. But if you have a good case, the honest people in the business will not blame you for pursuing it. The fact that I believe I lost out on potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars by following that bad advice is one reason I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
Obviously, I’m not in a position to give you legal advice, but if you consult a lawyer about your situation he or she will be able to advise you whether or not to go forward with a case and also the amounts you are likely to be awarded if you win.
Does this mean I shouldn’t be sending out my material?
No. For your material to be bought, it has to be seen. Too many writers get so paranoid that they barely send their material out and it never gets considered or bought. The best strategy is to protect yourself as well as you can right from the start.
What I can do to make it less likely that I’ll get ripped off?
I don’t have space to go into them all here, so I have prepared a full report on this that you can purchase for a very reasonable investment, below. But let me give you the basics:
* You need a full understanding of what can and can’t be protected (I’ve touched on this above, but there’s more to know—for instance, you can’t protect a title).
* You need to document when you created the material. If people know you have a good record of this (and thus are able to prove you had the material before they copied it) they are less likely to try to steal it. By the way, sending it to yourself in a sealed envelope is not the best strategy. There are inexpensive ways that are much better.
* You need to keep good records of where you submitted the material, and when. In any lawsuit, a crucial question will be whether the person who stole it had access to it, and when. Again, if they know you have kept a record, they are less likely to try to steal it. My report includes a simple system for keeping such records.
What’s in the report you’ve prepared for me?
Again, this report is not a substitute for legal advice, but whether you live in the U.S. or the U.K., it will give you guidelines for what to do to make it less likely that you’ll get ripped off, and more likely that you will prevail in a lawsuit if someone does steal your project. Here are some of the key points the report covers:
* why mailing yourself a manuscript or script is not the best strategy if you live in the US
* how to copyright your material
* more details on what can and can’t be protected
* the difference between copyright and trademarks and when to use each
* what paperwork to keep when you’re submitting a project to an agent, publisher, studio or anyone else
* for screenplays, how to register your material with the Writers Guild of America—even if you’re not a member
* What kind of notices to put on your manuscript or screenplay to show it has been protected (and what not to put on them)
* How to find out whether your material has been plagiarized on the internet
* What to do if your material has been plagiarized on the internet
How much is my investment in learning how to protect my material?
It’s a low $23 or £15 or €15—and I call it an investment because arming yourself with this crucial information now can save you so many headaches and problems later. By taking sensible precautions and making it clear that you’ve done so, you will let potential thieves know that you know what you’re doing and would not make a good victim.
You can get this crucial information immediately, in one concise 30 page report full of information you can use right now to protect your material.
Are there any bonuses when I order now?
Yes, you also get these two bonuses:
BONUS 1: Some people prefer to learn by listening to audio, so as a bonus I am including a complete recording of the report. You can listen to on your iPod or other mp3 player while at the gym or commuting, or on your computer the same way you listen to music files. This is a worth more than the price of the report alone.
BONUS 2: A report on how to write powerful query letters. When you want to submit your book or screenplay to an agent or a publisher or a producer, first you send a query letter. If that letter is well-written, it’s likely they’ll ask you to send either a full proposal (in the case of a non-fiction book) or the entire manuscript (if it’s a novel) or screenplay. But if that letter turns them off, they won’t. In this report you’ll learn the ten secrets of writing a powerful, effective, results-getting query letter.
The report and the audio file will be sent to you to download onto your computer as soon as you have completed the order, and so will the bonus report on writing powerful query letters. You can read the reports or print them out, and you can listen to the recording (mp3 format) on your iPod or other mp3 player or on your computer.
This is the introductory price and may go up (it won’t go down) so I suggest you order immediately and gain the peace of mind of knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your creative projects and know how to write dynamite query letters, too.
Yes, please send me your e-report on protecting my material. I understand this is a downloadable document and I’ll be sent access to it immediately. I also understand this report does not give legal advice but does tell me what actions to take to help protect my creative projects.
Please also send me the audio version of the report and my free bonus report on how to write a powerful query letter.