Help, Hollywood Stole My Idea (or Script)!

Do you believe you are the victim of copyright infringement or idea theft? Has Hollywood made or released a film based on your idea? Has a broadcast or cable network started running promos for or airing a reality TV, dramatic, or sports or game show that looks suspiciously similar to the idea you sent unsolicited to the network last year? Is a chart-topping song really your creation and you're not getting any credit? Then this page is for you.

If you have created an original literary or musical work and put it down in writing or another tangible form, then copyright law automatically protects your creation. It's still a good idea to register a copyright to your work, especially before pursuing a claim for copyright infringement, but this isn't necessary to possess a valid copyright.

Ideas are not protected by copyright.  It is more difficult to protect an idea and therefore ideas are generally protected in the entertainment industry against misappropriation by others by not sharing them with other parties, by only sharing them with reputable parties, and by express and implied contracts.

To prevail against a Hollywood studio, television network, music label, producer, writer, or singer, you will need to prove copyright infringement.  As the plaintiff, the burden of proof will be on you.  To prove copyright infringement, you must show that

  1. you possessed a valid copyright at the time of infringement;
  2. that no exceptions or defenses to copyright infringement apply (public domain, fair use, independent creation, etc.); and
  3. that there was (i) actual copying or (ii) that the infringer had access to the infringed material and their work is substantially similar to yours.

The last prong is where most proposed copyright claims fail:  the fact that a new film has a somewhat similar or even identical plot or characters to your script does not in and of itself prove copyright infringement.  If a studio developed their project independently of yours, there is no infringement, even if the end product is remarkably similar.  The fact that some other artist beat you to the punch by getting their similar material out into the marketplace before you does not mean you have a valid claim.

Even if you believe your claim clears all of these legal hurdles, then you must also consider that, because Hollywood studios and networks view these claims as largely frivolous and also to deter future such suits, it is the unwritten policy of most studios, networks, and other production and other entertainment industry companies to defend copyright infringement claims vigorously.  As a result, these lawsuits are very expensive to pursue and - unlike 95%+ of other lawsuits - must be tried to a jury verdict because they cannot be settled pre-trial.  Expect to pay into the six figures in legal fees and costs to pursue a claim, if your copyright infringement attorney is working on an hourly basis and at least five figures in court costs, expert witness fees, and the like, in the rare instance that the matter is handled on a contingency-fee (no recovery, no fee) basis.

If, after reading all of the foregoing, you still believe you have a viable copyright infringement claim, please contact the office to discuss the details; an hourly rate may apply to review your materials, the alleged infringing materials, and to advise and counsel you regarding your legal position and options.  Otherwise, typically, your best bet is to rework your current material and keep trying to get it sold or made, or to move on to a more commercially viable project, if the competing project renders yours commercial useless.

See also:

Copyright Registration
Copyright Infringement
Entertainment Law

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