Copyright a Spec?Complications Ensue
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Friday, August 31, 2007

Is it possible to copyright a spec script based on an existing television series? (using the same characters, personas, etc. and even listing as a speculative script for the show)
I suppose you could theoretically register your script with the US Copyright Office. But what would be the point?

Copyright protects you from someone else publishing your work. But no one is going to publish your spec, whether under their name or yours. They can't; it's based on someone else's property. And copyright doesn't stop someone sending your script around with their name on it. Nor would you even need copyright to protect yourself. If someone were poaching your spec, all you'd have to do is call their agent, who would promptly fire them as a client.

People steal original material much less commonly than people outside the business suppose. Who wants a lawsuit? But spec scripts? I've never heard of someone stealing a spec.

If, on the other hand, your idea is to copyright your story idea, in case the show later uses it -- forget it. You can't copyright an idea. And the show is not going to read your spec for that show. And if they did, they'd ask you to sign a release form that basically acknowledges that they've probably already heard more or less the same idea pitched to them five different ways from Sunday.

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The application for the Disney-ABC Fellowship actually required that your spec of an original show be registered with either WGA-W, WGA-E, or the Library of Congress. Not quite the same, but I thought that was a little strange.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 4:23 PM  

Well if it's a spec pilot, that you probably should copyright.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:39 PM  

ugh. That's what I get for not carefully re-reading what I write. It's a spec of an existing show that they take. That's why I found it odd. With a pilot, I'd expect it.

Not sure how I did that word substitution. I can only conclude I'm batty.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 6:47 PM  

Technically, copyright DOES protect against having your script passed around, since copyright allows you to control distribution. But, in this case, it's purely a technical distinction, since by sending it in it's presumed that you're consenting to having it distributed to people who you want to read it.

By Blogger Andrew, at 8:16 PM  

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