A few years ago, someone mentioned to me an idea they were kicking around for a screenplay. It was a great, high-concept idea that was screaming to be written. Years later, the script had not been written, nor had a treatment been done, or anything else been put in writing. I contacted the guy, who said he'd be willing to collaborate and write it together, but does not want to write it alone. I have absolutely no interest in collaborating on a spec, since I have my own habits and schedule. But I hate that this concept is not being written. Would I be a complete a-hole by writing it myself and marketing the spec?
Yes, you would. Thank you for asking.
Morally, you're obliged to work something out with the guy. Since he hasn't written the idea, he may not be that attached to it. You could ask him how much he wants for all rights to the idea, and buy it from him. You could also tell him you'd rather write it himself, but offer him a story credit and, say, 10% of any compensation you get from the sale of the script. I've done deals like that myself.
That said, as Denis pointed out, ideas are not copyrightable, only their expression. He owns any characters and plot he came up with, but the logline itself is not protected. E.g. you could do "two lovers meet on Titanic
", which may be all you need for your concept; but if one of the lovers is a rich girl about to go into a loveless marriage, it starts to become Jim Cameron's property.
The other question, of course, is how much you treasure your friendship. Regardless what is copyrightable or not, your friend may feel -- especially since you already asked him -- that he owns his idea. If you take it, he may well hate you.
Labels: copyright, rights
I'll tell ya, he's not a friend, merely an online acquaintance, so losing his esteem means nothing to me. But what has kept me in line up until now, and will probably keep me from writing it on my own, is the notion that I would hate it if someone did it to me.
So I'll just let the issue go, and the script will never be written.
Sometimes, having morals can be a bitch.
Mitch, if it's that good why give up so easily? If I felt that passionately about an idea I'd pursue it until it was completely exhausted. Keep talking with the guy, negotiate something...hell, just give in and co-write it...he may lose all interest half way through that process anyway.
Sometimes giving up can be a bitch.
I have a friend like this who's hoarding a great idea. I mean a great, home-run hi-pro comedic vehicle one-liner genius idea.
He's been holding onto it for about seven years. He had to wait a few years after 9-11 for certain reasons, but he'd be totally in the clear now. He's not a writer, but he could work with a writer or at least put down a treatment or something. But he won't lift a finger.
It makes me crazy, but it's his idea and what are you going to do? I'm not a comedy writer, but if I were, I'd probably kill him and steal the idea.
I say sell it to Ken Levine. No one will ever know.
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