How To Copyright An Idea For Film Or TV

Do you want to know how to copyright an idea for a movie or TV show?

It’s good to recognize that your ideas are valuable, and you absolutely must protect them.

Let’s talk about how to get an idea copyrighted.

How To Copyright An Idea: Overview

NOTE: I’m not a lawyer and this article does not provide legal advice. Here’s my disclaimer.

What Is A Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Why Copyright Protection Is Important

A quick internet search on the subject of how to copyright an idea and idea protection will yield a massive number of potentially relevant search results. People care about this issue. In part, this is because there are serious legal issues and real money involved.

But the fundamental issue, in my opinion, is that the issue of how to copyright an idea is important because it relates to our dreams as creative people. We can’t help but be emotionally attached to our ideas. They are a part of us. We want to see them live, and we want to profit from their expression.

When Copyright Issues Occur

There are three kinds of copyright issues I see frequently where you need to know how to copyright an idea and protect yourself.

1.  Adapting existing work

As a film executive with MGM, one of my specialties was in book-to-film adaptations.

If you are considering adapting a book to a movie, it is crucial that you investigate optioning the rights first. Without securing the rights, any work you do on the adaptation is unlikely to be sellable.

How to copyright an idea Book to film adaptationThis applies not only to books, but also sequels or prequels of existing movies, comic books, magazine articles, and short stories.

A first step in securing the rights would be to contact the publisher to see if they have a subsidiary rights division that can tell you who controls the rights or represents the author.

2.  Starting a project with a friend

If you are starting a writing partnership, you need to be thinking about how to copyright ideas in the long term.

Some of the issues are:

  • How will you share credit?
  • How will any expenses and revenues be handled?
  • How will decisions and disagreements be handled?
  • What if someone leaves the partnership?

Writing a collaboration agreement together can be a good way to get a new writing partnership on the right track. However, for writers with more experience and credits, I recommend working with an entertainment attorney just to be on the safe side.

3.  When you are negotiating with a producer

For example, if a producer wants to:

  • Pay you a flat rate for your rights
  • Option your work so another writer can work on it
  • Not compensate you for further rewrites
  • Not pay you according to a verbal agreement to do so
  • Not provide a written contract

These are all situations where you want to know how to copyright an idea because copyright issues are so important, and where I recommend working with an entertainment attorney.

This is a good article explaining the top ten reasons when a writer needs an entertainment lawyer.

What Copyright Does And Doesn’t Cover

The specific expression (embodiment) of your idea is copyrightable.

This typically means:

  • Screenplays
  • TV pilots
  • Novels
  • Plays
  • Blogs

Ideas themselves are not copyrightable.

This typically means:

  • Loglines
  • Verbal pitches
  • Core concepts
  • Character notions
  • Plot devices
  • Themes
  • Titles

Development executive and bestselling author Chad Gervich provides a good example of exactly what is and is not protected for a given idea.

Here’s an excerpt:

Chad Gervich TV writer explains how to copyright an ideaLet’s say you have an idea for a TV show about a boy who befriends a lost chupacabra. You do NOT own that idea. A TV company, a fellow writer, or your best friend could all write their own movies about boys befriending lost chupacabras… and you would (probably) have NO LEGITIMATE CLAIM they stole your idea.

Now, if you’d already written a script or treatment… and you could prove that they stole your plot, characters, lines of dialogue… you might have a case. But the idea itself—”boy befriends lost chupacabra”—is not yours. Even if you discussed it with people… you DO NOT OWN THE IDEA. You own only your execution.”

In the article, you’ll see that Chad takes care to say that he’s discussing TV and not movies, but as a former film executive, I can say that in my experience, Chad’s writing on the subject of how to copyright an idea applies to film as well. I highly recommend reading Chad’s article entirely, and scrolling through the comments where Chad responds at great length to other commenters.

What Having A Copyright Does For You

Copyright provides evidence of ownership.

That’s basically it.

Two things you need to understand:

  1. You have the copyright already: you own the copyright from the moment you have “fixed your work in a tangible means of expression.” Once you’ve written it down or in some way recorded (fixed) it, you own the copyright to the expression of that idea.
  2. Copyright doesn’t give your IDEA any protection: Copyright doesn’t protect you, and it doesn’t protect your ideas. It only protects the specific expression or execution of your ideas.

As Gervich says:

“If you should need to prove, legally, that you created a script, treatment, story, or other type of ‘creative execution’ before someone else, you must prove:

  1. That your execution and their execution are identical or similar enough to suggest actual theft.
  2. That you possessed your “execution” before they did.

And in order to prove those things, you need evidence, which is what copyrights, WGA registration, and sealed envelopes all offer. Not protection… just potential pieces of evidence.”

How To Copyright An Idea For Film Or TV

1) Gather the digital evidence

Create a computer folder with a copy of the summary, outline, treatment, and final draft of your created work. In other words, one folder with all of the evidence.

2) Archive this folder with password protection

A program I use for putting password protection on things is Archiver.

3) Email this archive to a responsible friend

This should be someone whom you know keeps their email forever. Yes, you’ll have a copy of the archive, but it’s more credible if, in the event of a lawsuit, someone who had no access to the information produces it.

4) Keep all your email

It’s not hard to keep all your emails (not junk or spam, of course), and you should already be maintaining a pristine backup system. If something does happen where you are a victim of theft, clear records of who sent what material to whom and when can help.

5) Keep track of your meetings

You should be keeping track of who you meet with, when, where, and what you discuss. This is most important as part of your meeting strategy to sell your work, but in the event something happens, these records can be useful.

6) Register the final draft of your work with the Writer’s Guild.

7) Register the final draft of your work with the US Copyright Office.

You can also pre-register certain works in progress. This registration is required to sue for copyright infringement in federal court. See the website for more details.

Do’s And Don’ts

How to copyright an idea- attorney adviceLet’s start with the Don’ts:

  • Don’t ask anyone to sign an NDA to read your work. While there are certain cases where this would make sense, in general, this is not common practice. It makes you look like a rookie.
  • Don’t send an envelope with a hard copy of your script in it to yourself. You might as well email a copy to a responsible third-party instead because it’s cheaper and faster.
  • Don’t put the Copyright # or WGA registration # on your title page. This is what amateurs do. It doesn’t offer you any actual protection. And it biases the person reading your script against you when they look at your title page and sigh, “Rookie….”
  • Don’t use a “leave-behind.” This means, when you take a formal pitch meeting of any kind (even at a pitchfest), don’t leave behind a one-sheet or treatment. The most you should leave is a business card with your contact information (although if they ask you for your script, then by all means give it to them and make a note of when, where, and to whom you gave the material). The real reason not to leave anything behind is because it’s almost never used to make your case—it’s used to come up with an excuse to “pass.” But it also pertains to protecting your ideas.

Now for the Do’s:

  • Do protect yourself. Keep your email, backup your computer, keep records of meetings, mail an archive to a friend, and register the final draft of your project with the WGA and US Copyright Office.
  • Do send the following informal email when you give someone a hard copy of your script.  It should say something to the effect of, “Nice to meet you and thanks for taking a look at the script I left with you today.” This is an added piece of evidence.
  • Do come up with a lot of ideas.  One idea isn’t worth very much (if anything at all).  A person with a fertile imagination, hard-core work ethic, and the commitment to succeed is worth a lot.  The best way to protect your ideas is to be a person with whom people want to work.
  • Do consider working with an attorney. If you’re negotiating something where money and credit is involved, don’t do it yourself. Hire an expert.
  • Do work fast. Often, ideas are in the air, and many writers are working on variations of the same thing, developing in parallel, completely unaware of each other. Sometimes, the version of an idea that lives is the one that gets to market first.

Final thought: should you put a copyright symbol on your cover page?

The professional writers I’ve asked say No, the lawyers I’ve asked say Yes. So I’m on the fence about this – in the scripts I read, it doesn’t matter to me either way.

Pitching Is Part Of The Creative Process

At the point when you think you have a great idea, that’s the time when (after protecting yourself) you need to start pitching it to other people and getting feedback.

In my experience, there is nothing more injurious to a writer’s career than not getting feedback soon enough. It’s so easy to get excited about an idea, develop it in a vacuum, slave over the script, start dreaming and fantasizing about the big bucks or the Oscar acceptance speech or just getting Mom or Dad to say, “Good work,” then finally have it read and discover that it’s not as good as you think. It’s heartbreaking, but the real loss is wasted time.

So if you really, really think you’ve been ripped off, it’s time to talk to an attorney. Then, regardless, it’s time to get back to work, and to start pitching your next idea as soon as you can. The best protection for your ideas and your career is to get feedback, adapt, and constantly improve.

For more on copyright issues, I highly recommend this compendium of copyright-related posts by screenwriter John August.

PS. Thanks to entertainment attorney Adam Kagan for his help.

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Discussion About How To Copyright An Idea For Film Or TV

  1. Blaire

    Great info Stephanie! Thank you!

  2. Blaire

    By the way, lawyers have said to pitch to people who you trust. Although this makes logical sense, is there anything practical about this?

    My experience with doing a pitch is that you have 30-40 minutes of a TV exec’s time and they want to hear what idea you have.

    Should we just keep a paper trail, do the copyright registration, and hope for the best?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Here’s how I think about this. I can guarantee that people will not sell an idea if they don’t tell anyone about it. In my opinion, the risks of someone potentially stealing an idea are very low in comparison to rewards of selling a project and launching a successful career. And yes, keeping a paper trail is a smart business practice for many reasons.

      • Chad Gervich

        Thanks for the shout-out, Stephanie! Another reason not to be scared of sharing your ideas, Blaire: ideas are a dime a dozen. If you have two ideas you’re protecting because you know they’re your cash cow, you are not a writer/producer. You should have 20 ideas… and tomorrow you should think of 20 more… and the next day — 20 more. Your job as a writer/producer/artist is to be constantly generating ideas. Most of them will never happen for one reason or another, but you need to keep pumping them out.

        AND… you need to keep sharing them. Hollywood is an industry based almost entirely on relationships – and one of the ways those relationship are formed is by engaging in the free trade of ideas. In a general meeting with an exec, you throw out an idea, they give you some suggestions or feedback; meanwhile, they tell you about something they’re working on, you throw out some ideas yourself.

        TV writers often do punch-up work on other writers’ pilots. For example, I had a pilot deal at 20th Century Fox last year, and when I was about to turn in the script, I put together a room of professional TV writers and producers to help punch up the script. They all did it COMPLETELY FOR FREE, contributing their jokes, rewrites, suggestions, pitches, etc. And I’ve done this many times for other writers — at all levels (showrunners, babies, etc.)

        This isn’t just about helping each other — it’s that by engaging in the free trade of ideas, you establish yourself as a creative force… people get a sense of who you are and your sensibility… etc.

        If you’re not willing to engage in that free trade, it’s very hard to establish yourself as a creative person worth working with. It’s like opening a restaurant but not putting up a sign… but in Hollywood, your “signs” are the ideas, pitches, jokes, stories, etc. — which you throw out there for all the world to see.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks so much, Chad!

      • Blaire

        Thanks Stephanie! I really like your energy!

      • Donna Filippone van Weerelt

        I emailed in my ideas for Baby First TV for my creative ideas of Li’l Vinnie, Looi and updating their Color Crew to Primary and Secondary colors…for their show. I did tell them that I had presented my idea for Li’l Vinnie to a self publisher. Looi I came up with as well. These are my characters. Baby First did nothing to change to change appearances of my characters…ie colors, dress , wand, and concepts. They took what I submitted and left me out of every thing after…went to their lawyers without consent from me. I received nothing. I do not know know if I was even noted as being the creater of these at all. What am I able to do? How do I get a wrong righted? Or is it the lawyers win as usual?
        I have now learned if you create something never ever give access to it to anyone as you will just be used. I have twins…they stole the food from their plates. Learned the hard way.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Sorry you had to experience this, Donna. Every situation is different, but in your type of situation I recommend consulting with an entertainment attorney.

      • Yolanda Banks

        Hi I just completed final draft for my movie.Along with copyrights.I was thinking about having a listening party with my colleagues,Food, small setting of above 35 people. Listening to the dialogue of my film. So my question is do you think this is a good idea?

        Yolanda BANKS

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Hard to say. Depends on your friends… maybe try it with a few friends and see how it goes over before inviting a bigger group of people?

  3. Blaire

    Great info Chad – and yes, I agree.

    But here’s the deal — my Tv Show (reality) idea is one where I would be the Talent, Creator and Consulting Producer.

    For me, it’s not just about being on TV — it’s about sharing my message with the world. Influencing the show, having it presented in the way (or at least sharing input as to how I am and the show is presented)

    So the concern is that a Development Company or TV Exec may say — “yes” you be the talent, but “no” to the creator credit and “no” to the Consulting Producer position.

    To which I would tell them I’m not interested / no deal — and the fear of them doing my idea with someone else. Not even sure if they can do that, but I’m sure they could. So that’s the concern.

  4. Chad Gervich

    Blaire — some quick knee-jerk reactions.

    First of all, your goal should be to SELL THIS SHOW (and your vision of the show), not to be the host. Most TV networks, production companies, and show will only hire hosts who have extensive hosting experience — which, since I don’t know you at all, you may have. But my guess is: since you’re reading blogs and asking how to sell shows, you don’t. Which means it’s a long shot that anyone — even someone who LOVES your show idea — would allow you to be the host.

    If you DO want to host this show, you’ll need to compile a DEMO REEL, a highlight reel of your previous hosting experience, used to show producers and buyers that yes — you are the most poised, articulate, likable, warm, funny, charismatic host on the planet. And to put together that demo reel, you’ll obviously need footage of you hosting… and these hosting gigs probably need to be on fairly high-profile successful TV shows and networks. (Many networks even insist on having a celebrity host, believing that a celebrity will bring with them a built-in fan base and publicity opportunities.)

    Secondly, unless you’ve produced, sold, and created other successful reality shows, it is highly doubtful that any network or production company will give you sole “Created By” credit. They MIGHT give you “Co-Created By” credit. But aiming to be credited as the “Creator” is a mistake many young producers make — falsely believing that coming up with an idea for a TV show is all it takes to have “created” a show. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, as I said earlier, ideas themselves — even ideas that have been partially developed — are a dime a dozen. I obviously don’t know your idea… but I would be willing to bet every penny I have that it’s been pitched, developed, maybe even bought and sold SOMEWHERE. Probably at several somewheres.

    The only thing that makes an idea unique is the EXECUTION of it — and execution takes much more than conceiving an idea. It needs formatting, an understanding of budgeting, casting, locations, scheduling — and these are skills that are only learned with YEARS of television production experience. So you need to partner with a producer, showrunner, or production company that can provide this.

    And YES — they will take your idea and twist it, mutate it, alter it, develop it — sometimes in ways you like, sometimes in ways you don’t. But that is part of the collaborative process. It’s also part of working with someone who understands the creative and practical requirements of television. That’s not to say that every producer always makes the right decisions — they don’t. But most networks will (rightly) trust the instincts of an experienced producer/showrunner of the instincts of a passionate newbie with an idea, no matter how strong the idea is.

    (A few years ago, a friend of mine sold a sitcom idea to a major cable network. They paired him with a showrunner, who said he would only supervise the show if he could have “co-created by” credit… which my friend consented to. The idea got on the air and ran for two seasons. Even though it was 100% my friend’s idea, he needed to share the “created by” credit because an idea itself is not a television show — and creating a TV show takes MUCH MUCH more knowledge, insight, and experience that just having the idea.)

    So… all of this is to say — if you have an idea you truly believe in, that you truly believe should be on TV, there’s almost no better way to guarantee it WON’T get on TV than by insisting you be the talent, creator, and producer.

    My advice: if someone legit wants to buy your show, you fight to stay on board as some sort of producer (depending on the network, you could be as high as Co-EP or as low as Co-Producer), and nothing else.

    Fight hard, and ask for whatever you want, but don’t throw yourself on your sword for “Created By” credits or hosting duties.

    • Blaire

      Thanks Chad – you’re a real dream killer, aren’t ya? But I do appreciate your point of view and honesty, so thank you for that.

      I’m reading this blog because I like doing my research and being educated. I’ve been approached to host shows, and I do have TV experience as well – and I’ve decided that for me it’s not just about being on TV/hosting a show, it’s more about bringing something meaningful to TV and changing the world for the better. Anyway — thank you again and enjoy your trip to Israel!

  5. Bonnie Russell

    Another win Stephanie.

    Basically, work is stolen because economically, it pencils out.

    So my solution is to put my name on everything. Also, my agreements are based from prior court decisions in the Court of Appeal, (because it’s the Court of Appeal is where the case gets interesting).

    And still one may find oneself in court.

    P.S. To anyone who has followed my documentary……saw the rough cut last weekend.

    Most I liked it.

    And I’m getting a facelift.


  6. Mark Martino

    Will somebody please explain to me why it is a rookie move for a screenwriter to put a copyright registration number on a script?

    In every other business I’ve been involved in, not providing a patent number or trademark or copyright registration number is considered a rookie move. Providing these registrations makes it easier for the receiving party to complete their due diligence.

    If a copyright registration is considered evidence in a dispute, a stronger case could be made if it can be shown that the infringing party was aware of the copyright when the script was received.

    The notion that having a copyright on a script demonstrates naiveté seems a bit old fashioned. Screenplays are now used for more than just films. They may be adapted to another medium or used directly. Not having the copyright printed on the document may complicate business and legal proceedings for these other applications.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      The issue about putting copyright registration information on your script is that the writer already owns the copyright, so there’s no need to do this. It’s kind of like writing on the cover page, “This script is written in English,” in the sense that the information is obvious, redundant, and unnecessary. To continue this unusual simile, if you looked at a script that said on the cover page, “This script is written in English,” you might assume that the writer was not a strong writer in English, and that could influence you negatively against the writer.

      Plus, to add to one of the points Chad Gervich made in a previous comment, the point of writing a script is to sell it and get a project made–but if it seems like you don’t understand copyright, if you act like an amateur in even a small way, you’re a lot less likely to intrigue someone to read the script in the first place. So this certainty, of being perceived as an amateur, is what weighs against the extremely small possibility that someone will infringe on a copyright and that putting the registration number on the cover page (not just having the number, but putting it on the cover page) makes a difference in the case.

      • Mark Martino

        Thanks for clearing that up.

        If I’m following the logic of this correctly, it seems that if anybody but the original writer is submitting a script, for instance, a producer, the copyright number should be included on the cover page. Is that correct?

  7. William Xifaras

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for sharing this information. Always enjoy reading your content, of course I love your book, Good in a Room.

    As you’ve pointed out “Pitching is Part of the Creative Process”. I think most creative’s have a problem with pitching. That’s okay, it’s something we have to work on if we expect to sell ourselves/ our ideas. After all, in a capitalistic society, every job involves sales in one way or another. If we aren’t selling a service or item, we are selling our ideas or ourselves.

    Thank you once again for your insight.

    William X

  8. Lisa Potocar

    Wow, Stephanie! Do you have mental telepathy or what? You continue to read where I’m at in the “pitching” process. Thanks for the wonderful intelligence, and I too just love your book “Good In A Room”!!!!!

  9. Danny O'Brien

    I live in the U.K and I’ve just finished writing my first screenplay.I was using the free software,Adobe Story.Adobe is a cloud based software and I think it uses it’s own internal clock and calendar so date’s and time’s can’t be manipulated.Would you feel comfortable distributing script’s knowing it’s saved via this method or would you still recommend filing for copywrite?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Danny. I would feel comfortable distributing a script that way, but feel free to make the choice that feels right to you.

  10. W. Keith Sewell

    Stephanie, your articles and Chad’s have been a Godsend for me lately. Answering most of the questions I’ve had about pitch meetings and copyrighting your materials. I didn’t know you recommend not leaving a one-sheet behind.

    I plan to attend this year’s AFM in Nov 2013. I hope to see you there…


    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Keith. Yes, I will be at AFM this year. Hope to see you at the Pitch Conference on Saturday, November 9.

      • larry jackson

        Stephanie, i have several ideas for Tv shows and a couple of outlines for a movie for Tv. I have not contacted anyone and really don`t know where to start. I have had these for about 8 years now. I just ran across them when cleaning out my closet. To me they still would be original. I have not shown them to anyone except my family and naturally they think some of them would really work on TV. I have no idea how to talk to the right person or how to go about getting them copy wright or even if i should. I am not too computer smart. Please if you could help me in any way for me to get started i would so appreciate what ever you could do if anything.
        Sincerely Larry Jackson

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Hi Larry, Thanks for your note. I’m going to be teaching a class about how to sell TV ideas this Fall. If you’re on my email list, you’ll be notified when the class is and I’ve designed it to help people take the next steps with their TV and film ideas.

      • Yolanda Banks

        Hi how can i be apart of this event on Nov 9? Thanks

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Here’s information about American Film Market:

  11. Von

    This site and your book are awesome! Thanks for insight. I’ve just started jotting down ideas for a television series based on a short story; but it has had two previous films adaptions already made. Any public (free) online resources I can use to search and undertand getting the rights to this? Thanks!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much! There may be other resources that I don’t know about, but I have had success in the past calling the book publisher and asking who owns the film rights, and then calling the rights holder to secure the rights.

      • Von


  12. juan zurita

    Ok I came up with a tv show idea that is about me learning,how to become a martial arts actor and do voice acting on video games also do dubstep dances an free running.the problem is I have no acting experience I never even do all of this I just want someone to teach me how to be a better martial arts actor but I just don’t know what to do.I feel frustrated I feel depress I want to become somebody I just don’t know what to do I want someone to me how. I will want to tell you more I just dont want to come out to much detials. I know that agent can’t come to my house and I can’t go to a agent either an also it could be a scam too that makes it hard. I want to become a movie actor I’ll try so freaken hard until I become successful I don’t have a job but this is the only job I want to take. Well this is part of the tv show idea and I can’t tell you the title

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Juan,

      I understand that you have a lot of goals. You mentioned the goal of being an actor. I recommend getting as many jobs as an actor as you can in your local area (paid or unpaid) first, before trying to get work on a national level. Best of luck to you.

  13. Andrew

    Now that I’m getting into the nuts and bolts fleshing out stage of a screenplay with my writer I literally asked him about my concerns for copyright questions yesterday! Brilliant timing Stephanie. I’ve recently discovered Good In A Room and all the benefits that come with your vast knowledge and experience. I’m so excited to take advantage of as much of your information and advice as I can for our film pitch later in the year. Thank you

    • Stephanie Palmer

      So glad to know you found this helpful, Andy!

    • Andrew

      Likewise Stephanie.. I am making the relevant plans to attend the AMF in November this year. I want to be fully prepared for the trip and is it correct to say you can offer consulting assistance? If you’re able to do an initial contact with me via my private email I’d like to discuss a strategy for your involvement. Regards, Andy

  14. Jen

    My question relates to feature treatments and outlines.
    When a producer pitches an idea to me and asks for my take, then (if I’m interested) I will create a 5-20 page document, fleshing out (and often creating characters, themes, plot, etc…
    Is that content in any way protected, in case I don’t get the gig? Can it be?
    Thank you,

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Jen. Yes, you own the copyright from the moment you have “fixed your work in a tangible means of expression.” Once you’ve written it down or in some way recorded (fixed) it, you own the copyright to the expression of that idea.

      But, if a producer steals your idea (unlikely, but not impossible) and you want to sue them so they don’t use your ideas, it can be very expensive and that is one reason why some people do not pursue copyright infringement cases.

  15. mike

    I’m not a writer but I have an idea for a show that is partially about me and my involvement in a fascinating industry that recently ended in a 140 million civil judgment against me and my companies from the US government. should I find a writer? How do I protect an idea about me and this industry? Would a network be interested in providing a team that they like working with? Thanks

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Mike. You have me intrigued. Definitely consult with an entertainment attorney about protecting the idea and seeing what you would be able to show/not show. This will be an important consideration for anyone who would be interested in buying your show. I would focus on finding an experienced producer who has credits in the same genre as your show first. Without a producer, it will be much harder to get interest from writers or networks. Good luck!

  16. Elena

    Hi Stephanie,

    I have an idea of a network. The title of the channel is the initials of a celebrity. I want to sell my idea to that specific famous person, so he can create a network of his own. Can I protect my idea? Can I get money of this idea? Can I say that is my idea at the same time that the initials are the name of the celebrity?

    Thank you

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m not an attorney, so I’m not commenting on the legality of this. But from my perspective, I don’t understand why a celebrity would pay someone else for the idea of using their own initials to start a network. Perhaps there is more to the idea than this?

  17. James

    I would like to know what is the best way to go about contacting a producer in order to be able to pitch the idea to networks?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi James. This may be disappointing, but best way to contact a producer is through a referral. This is the way almost all writers get meetings, get representation and get hired. If you’d like to start building your network and getting referrals to the right people, I suggest checking out my course:

  18. Alex Richard

    Hi Stephanie , I’ve been trying to find the best way to protect my work 100% and getting it out to the world . I’ve been studying science for the past 38 years as a hobby and developed lots of my own work . I love a great challenge and work on solving the worlds problems and the mysteries of the world . I have lots of new discoveries but right now I like to focus on the 2 most important ones that I know will help our world . The first is that I found something new that was very damaging to our environment and believe it could be one of the things contributing to global warming . The second discovery that I solved is the real reason behind the disappearance of our Honey Bee’s . The scientist blame it on the Pesticides but there wrong … Sure , Pesticides could be killing some but not in great amounts . If I had the chance to present my work to the world I know everyone would agree that my proof is correct . I’ve tried contacting well known environmentalist , scientist for years now but with no luck . I wish that even finding a partner to help me would be nice . What would you do if you were me ? Feel free to email me with the attached email to this comment if you want . Thank you for any help .

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Alex,

      It sounds like you are doing very interesting work. These are complex questions and hard to answer without knowing more specifics, but I would suggest contacting a local newspaper or magazine to see if you can get your work published that way. Often, a compelling article in a local paper can get picked up by the local news, then gets picked up by larger papers or news programs. Also, after you have an article or interview with you published, you can include the clip when you contact environmentalists and scientists. The “third party validation” of press can be very powerful. I wish you lots of success!

    • Alex Richard

      Thank you Stephanie , I’ll try it soon with the Honey Bee mystery . I’m sure it will hit the news world wide . After I get it published I’ll send a copy of the story to a radio station that I listen to daily . 640 AM radio , coast to coast AM would be more then happy to share the story with there millions of listeners because they covered the disappearance of the Honey Bee’s a few times in the past . Thanks again and I’m sure you’ll here about it on the news when it comes out . Take care and have a wonderful day <3

  19. YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY | Launch Port - The Open Door Business Blog

    […] How To Copyright And Protect Your Ideas […]

  20. Madeline McDaniel

    I consider myself an idealist. I have several storylines for books and screenplays for movies but they are only stored in my head. A few are on paper, I could verbally tell you each one of them but transferring to paper is a struggle. Several of them play out like my own personal movie in my head. I think if I had a ghostwriter or something it wd help. Anyway do you have any suggestions. The ideas range from a children’s series to period pieces about a young boy inspiring to be a doctor. Please help

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Madeline. As a next step, try recording yourself talking through the stories. Then, you can transcribe or pay someone else to transcribe the text. There are also ghostwriters who can help, but it’s beneficial to get as much on paper first, before working with a ghostwriter.

  21. Mike Smith

    Hi Stephanie,
    I have an idea, but it’s less so a story, but more a concept. The closest thing might be to describe it as an a special effect that hasn’t been seen before. So in the situation where a script is written and the effect (let’s say the bullet time effect in the matrix) described and the film not made, I’m not sure distributing a script would help except to distribute the idea of the effect around. In this particular case, I’m not even sure that even I filmed and explained the effect and how it works would offer any protection of the idea, except to see the idea used without any attribution.
    Would that be correct? I’m not a writer, or massively creative.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m not a lawyer, but that makes sense to me. I would suggest investigating how special effects technology is patented and perhaps there would be an opportunity in that realm.

  22. Darren Holding

    Hello I have a TV game show idea but I would like to copyright it before sending my idea off so no one else can use it as there own.

    I don’t know how I would go about copyrighing it hope you can help

    Thanks Darren

  23. Adrian

    I have a TV show idea and I really need to copyright it so that I can publish it. How can I copyright my idea?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      While the idea alone is not copyrightable, if you publish the complete idea in a written form, you automatically own the copyright.

  24. Douglas Westfall

    You cannot copyright an idea, you cannot trademark an idea, nor can you patent an idea.
    You can only in the way you carry it out — the expression of it. To a screen writer that means writing.
    Information is free — it’s the way you write it out that gives in propriety — and © copyright-able.

    You also cannot copyright a book title (which is why I embed the title within the text of my books.)
    You also cannot copyright a table of data (which is why our materials have explanations.)
    You also cannot copyright a recipe (which is why my cook books provide instructions.)
    I could go on…

    All copyrights since 1978 are protected for 75 years after the death of the author, 95 years if it was a work for hire, or 120 years from the date of creation. Before 1978, it’s a crapshoot.

    Douglas Westfall
    The Paragon Agency — Producers of “My American History”
    P.O. Box 1281 — Orange, CA 92856
    (714) 771-0652

  25. SankarMunusamy

    Hi Stephanie, I desired to looking forward with your site. I was struggled to find out about the innovator beneficiaries and the intellectual thefts. I was surprised to see your site and I would like to know and share my experience with you. Thanks for that. Now my question is…l had created many innovative ideas, business concepts, advertising concepts, movie stories, society development themes for politicians, I T concepts, T V show concepts and all. But most I was shared with my friends, strangers by verbally. Few I was written in my dairy. That dairy I was given to a stranger. That all ideas and concepts became implemented and got profited more than crore. Few ideas worth nearly 100000 crore. But I am not the beneficiaries for that. But I was trying to do that all. unfortunately I can’t able to do that all for few reasons. I have written about that all in my dairy. Can I get the benefits from the past without having proof ?. If the time machine will implemented maybe it can possible I think write ? . Or if there is a way to get back my benefits to me ?. Ideas and concepts are very valuable for first step towards to do something new for innovate . Can the doctor or software professionals can give suggestions and ideas for free ?. Like that ideas and concepts for the innovator are must be payable in a percentage or depending upon the idea and concept provides. It should be hope for new comers of ideas creator. Then only the world will become a reality not only from the verbally ideas can change the world technologically. Thanks. I hope you reply.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Sankar,

      I’m not sure I understand your question, but if you are considering suing to get paid for ideas that were stolen, I suggest consulting with an IP attorney.

  26. Mo Weizmann

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for taking the time to write your original post and to read people’s comments.

    I have a quick question. I understand what you say about copywriting ideas. I’m working on a screenplay adaptation of a book. I have contacted the literary agent who represents the rights-holders (the author’s descendants) and she is keen to sell. (This might not bode well for my project!) I haven’t bought the rights as I don’t know yet whether it would be a good investment. I understand you can’t advise about that. But I’d love your opinion on when might be the time to buy them.

    I’ve finished an outline of the scene beats and showed it to a producer, who gave good notes. My main aim is to use the screenplay as a writing sample, although naturally I’d love to sell the project. But I know that’s highly unlikely. Before turning the outline into a full script and using it to try to secure meetings, do I need to buy the rights? Can I even register my script if it is based off another (deceased) author’s work? Or is having established that the rights are available and relatively cheap enough to write up the script and then share that with others?

    I understand you’re not an IP lawyer, but any guidance on best practices in this area would be so much appreciated.

    Thanks and best wishes,

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Mo,

      Great questions. If you want to sell your script based on a book, I strongly recommend that you have the film rights secured to the book before you submit the project. Agents and studio executives will want to know that the rights are locked down before considering the project. So many deals fall apart when the rights aren’t clear that most people are very skittish and just rule out any projects that could have muddled rights. To play devil’s advocate, if the producer with whom you shared your outline is dishonest, he/she could go and purchase the inexpensive rights, get someone else to write the project, and your hard work would be in vain. Alternatively, if a producer is interested in the project, it’s possible you could convince them to pay for the film rights. If you decide to negotiate for the rights, definitely work with an experienced attorney.

      But it sounds like a key goal is to have an excellent writing sample. If your writing sample is exceptional and is based on a book, this work could potentially get you hired to adapt another book into a screenplay. Do you primarily want to focus on book-to-film adaptations? If yes, go forth. If your goal is to get writing assignments or sell original ideas, this project isn’t the best choice from a positioning standpoint. Let’s say the book you want to adapt is a John le Carre novel. (I’m picking this because these rights would definitely not be cheap, so it isn’t your project). Even if your screenplay is a great thriller sample, this isn’t going to help you as much as an original script. In most cases, executives will think, “Well, the adaption is good, but all the real work was done by le Carre.”

      • Mo Weizmann

        This is super helpful. Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise. You raise excellent points and I’m definitely working on original ideas as well. Thanks again.

        PS But imagine if I *could* get the rights to le Carré on the cheap…then I’d be in business!

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Glad to help, Mo. And yes, you’ve got it.

  27. Kenneth

    Hi Stephanie

    I live in Toronto. Would I need to copywrite my idea/script in Canada and the US if I was considering pitching to producers/directors from both countries?

    Thanks, Kenneth

  28. John

    I have two screenplays on the Inktip website. (Connects writers with industry professionals.) They wont accept work unless it is registered in some way. They recommend the WGA.
    Even though I’m in England this was easy, cheap and quick to do. It also gives ‘peace of mind’ when I’m sending my scripts out elsewhere.
    Super website by the way. I’ve learned tons visiting here.

  29. Dallas

    My friend and I have an idea for a TV show which we are trying to develop ourselves as a web series. The issue I am having is that when it comes to anything outside of having an idea, my friend is not involved. He looks at it as 50/50, but when it comes to building sets, props, providing cash flow, etc. it is more like 90/10. I do not want to get burned should the show start generating revenue, but my friend seemed offended at the idea of a contract. He also randomly loses interest in the project and I usually bring him back around. I’m not sure what to do but am wondering if I take the show and produce it myself what kind of legal entitlemt dies he have based on the ideas, which were 50/50.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      In my non-legal-professional opinion, this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. I would talk to your friend and see if he would be willing to let you “buy him out” of the project so you can proceed on your own. I would consult with an entertainment attorney to make sure you are clear to move forward, otherwise I would start working on new ideas that don’t involve your friend as he doesn’t have the same level of commitment that you do. Here are two articles about writing partnerships as this is related to your experience: 9 Questions Writing Partners Should Ask Each Other and 6 Tips To Creating A Writing Partnership That Works. Good luck!

  30. Patricia Vettori

    Hey Stephanie,

    Thanks for bringing attention to this topic! I was wondering what your thoughts are on whether you can copyright a spec TV script on a preexisting series? Is it advisable or even possible to do since you are technically spec’ing a previously existing series? My guess is that it can’t be done, and probably doesn’t need doing, since the purpose is not to sell in this case but showcase how you can execute a concept within those constructs. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks again for any advice!

    Patricia Vettori

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Patricia, You’re right in that the purpose of specing a TV show is to use as a writing sample with the goal of getting hired on a show, not that you would sell the specific script that you wrote.

  31. Andres

    Hi Stephanie,
    Could you, please, let me know which form should I fill to register a reality show ( TV program ) at the library of Congress through Eco.
    Thanks !

  32. David

    Hi Stephanie and thank you very much for the write up!
    I have a question that I ‘think’ follows under the umbrella of your guidelines, but hoping you can help me determine this..

    I have an idea for a ‘tangible product’. I dont have the means to manufacture a working representation of it, but rather have created a detailed image of it, with description.

    Can I copyright the image? And will that give me the protection of the idea itself? And if so, would I file it under as a Work of the Visual Arts?
    I realize its a bit of a distance from screenplays, and the like, but hoping you have advice nevertheless.

    Thank you for your time!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Great question, David. I haven’t had experience with what you are asking. I recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in intellectual property.

    • vladimir

      Dear Stephanie, all your recommendations come from the wisdom: ‘needs – always, wants’ -sometime’. If I didn’t see you on the stage and not to receive your emails I would think you are a FILMGOOGLE . Your knowledge is golden.


  33. Megan

    I got two questions. Question one; I created a paranormal cop show and the department my character works in is called Special Crimes Unit. I recently found out that a show and a book series uses the term Special Crimes Unit. Also, I found a few law enforcement groups use the term as well, none are associated to paranormal work. Can you copyright the term Special Crimes Unit? Question two; my brother stole my paranormal cop idea and created his own Special Crimes Unit and is now trying to sell that to book publishers. Can I sue for him stealing my copy righted concept or do I have to sit back and let him make my idea. I do have copyright papers form WGA, but he said I can’t copyright a concept.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Megan,

      I don’t think you can copyright Special Crimes Unit, nor can you copyright an idea. If you decide to pursue this idea further, focus on writing the very best version of the project so that people will want to work with you.

  34. Harsha

    If writer is the producer of the movie does he have to worry about registering the screenplay?

    Thanks harsha

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, registering the script offers some protections in case the script is stolen.

  35. Bryce

    I was going to do 2 shows filmed with my camera in 3d 3 times in 3 different angles to look professional. Thing is when I do them, there will be no written work, just me directing others on what to say in the current tone, like open directing. Would it be wise to maybe tape record it for proof of concept of your idea? This is what dad and I did when I was younger and though it wasn’t all that liked b/c idea flopped, the goal was to get a good grade and I got an A. So I thought maybe do the same for what could be a really good movie or sitcom could work, any ideas. I don’t like writing and I can only ever get 2 pages written in which I do something else afterwards.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Making the film does put your idea in a “tangible means of expression” but it’s hard to know how much that would really protect you. That said, if you don’t like to write, directing may not be for you (it often involves a lot of writing). Consider cinematography – it’s a great gig if you prefer to focus on how things look in the frame.

  36. Michelle Rodriguez

    Thank you so much for the useful information. I was wondering about getting feedback, do you find it better to reach out and ask people to read a script or pay for a professional company to do this? I have had a script go through both ways and the professional showed me a lot of flaws in the script, but then I would need to pay them again to re-read. What is your opinion?

  37. Idriss Abdi Ahmed Khalif

    Hi Stéphanie
    Thanks for all you do BTW…2 questions
    1- If I write a whole new script, let’s say on the Life of JÉSUS! Now since there are many other films previously made on this same subject, would my work be considered an adaptation; and will I be required to secure any rights whatsover from previous films on JESUS writers/producers?
    2- I am currently writing a script starring a long dead Hollywood icon with séries of very popular films back in the eighties (actually his name I might use but; truly I have recently discovered the existence of this icon’s exact copycat out there and although from a different race/country which is the main reason behind my idea of writing another film in the same line as those from this icon though mine will have It’s own unique storyline and would be more like a satire comedy due to the fact that I am hoping to have that copycat (but this guy don’t even know any if this as of yet; he doesn’t even know I exist) drafted to star in my film if ever picked and/or produced. Now, what kind of rights may here be involved? And will again this be considered as an adaptation vs an original work? Please advise. Thanks.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Idris,

      The answer to your first question is no, but I don’t understand your second question enough to be able answer specifically.

  38. caleb vinson

    I am working on a children’s book that I know would be a great children’s movie. Pixer is my inspiration and i know they would love it, but since I do not work there, they can not make it happen. So i was wandering what my first step needs to be and who do i need to try to contact ? Thank you for the help.

    -Caleb Vinson

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Caleb,

      Pixar develops their projects in-house. If you haven’t read Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc, I highly recommend it. Other studios do acquire the film rights for children’s books. Typically if a film producer is interested in purchasing the rights, the producer will contact the book publisher, rarely does it work the other way around.

  39. Cobalt

    Does a copyright count for a movie you have written, filmed, and published all by yourself? I’m an independent movie maker, with absolutely no experience or connections– I’ve been planning on making and selling my own movies for a very long time, but I’m having trouble with the research into how that’s done. It’s not like self-publishing a book, is it?

    I already have a few good ideas in my head, am working on scripts, and will be doing the animating myself. What I want to know is if I upload my movies to Youtube after I’m done with them, would some big-name movie company have the right to steal the whole thing out from under me, re-create it with fancy animation programs, and send it to theaters as their own?… Or would some aspiring collage student?

    I mean, I don’t know what the rules or the dangers are as far as being an individual movie maker goes. Can you help me?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Cobalt. You own the copyright from the moment you have “fixed your work in a tangible means of expression.” Once you’ve written it down or in some way recorded (fixed) it, you own the copyright to the expression of that idea.

      • Cobalt

        Okay, thank you!

  40. Lindsey Vaughn

    I’m currently creating an event where I can potentially turn it into a game show. Do the same rules apply for the copywrite?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      My best guess is that yes, they do, but game shows are not my area. Follow the recommendations and if and when things start to get more serious, consult with an attorney right away.

  41. Christina

    A friend of mine has a incredible life story and has been on CNN, national and international newspapers/channels. He is trying to make a movie and everyone around him thinks it is a great idea and the story is very inspiring and has a global reach.

    In order to secure the rights is it good for him to write a basic level script himself so he secures it and then pitch it to producers etc?

    A writer approached him and has a “verbal agreement” to give Fes 5-7% for the life story rights?

    Also where can he sell his life story rights if he wants to cash in without people stealing it?

    Thanks so much in advance

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Christina,

      These are complex questions and depending on your friend’s goals, there can be different answers. In general, it is not required for him to write a script if there are long-form articles written about him in major publications. If the writer who approached him has established credits in a similar genre, this can be very helpful.

      I definitely recommend having a signed agreement, negotiated by an attorney, between your friend and the writer before any projects are pitched as too often, people have conflicting understandings (especially when money is involved.) I’m unclear how someone would steal life story rights, as your friend would have to sign the agreement for his specific story to be told and his name to be used, but if you mean you want to protect from any story that is similar being made (eg. a heroic soldier story or dramatic family story), unfortunately, this isn’t possible.

  42. theodore zorek

    After obtaining a copyright on an program idea, I was considering beginning a make of the idea
    on youtube. Good or bad to do that?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I think it’s great to experiment and get your work seen. You can respond to feedback and start to build an audience— both very important skills for career success.

      • theodore zorek

        Awesome, thank you Stephanie. Really like the article. Helped me understand a great deal.

  43. Lati

    Hi, I loved your article! I was just wondering how can I go about protecting and registering my program that focuses on leadership development in youth, who do i contact?

    thank you,


    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m not sure if that is necessary, but you could contact an attorney specializing in intellectual property.

    • Mark D Bullard


      I’m not an IP lawyer, but I’m surrounded by them in my day job. With respect to your program, the content you create (books, powerpoints, handouts, etc.) is copyrightable as Stephanie outlines above. But you may also want to consider getting a trademark for the name of your program if it is unique. It if is something like Seattle Yough Leadership Development, then it’s probably too descriptive to get a Trademark, but if it’s something unique that others may want to copy in the future like T.O.M.T.O.M. – Teaching Opportunistic Methods To Our Mentees. You might want to protect it.

      One more thought. Lawyers are expensive. But, like doctors, when you need them, you need them. If you think there is a reasonable to high likelihood that someone will steal/copy your program, you should seek protection. And start with Copyrights. (They are cheaper and enforced by the government. Trademarks are much more expensive and you MUST pay to monitor and protect your marks.) Otherwise, focus your energy on helping youth and don’t stress about copycats.

      Best regards and thanks for your work with the next generation!

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks so much, Mark.

      • Azedine

        Dear Stephanie,
        Thanks for your article;
        I just finished a pilot script that was intended for TV series. But because i have heard it is so difficult to get your work read by entertainment people, I changed my mind and I am thinking in publishing it as a book so people can have a chance to read it;
        Please advise

      • Stephanie Palmer

        I think that’s a good plan. It is much easier to get books published than to get TV series picked up. There are also many avenues available for self-publishing books. Best of luck to you!

  44. Leezee

    ok so I finished my first movie script, done, finite, on to the next. I got it USA copyrighted. I’m not putting the file number on the cover page, but on the first page in, top right corner, in small italicized letters it says “copyrighted 2015″… that’s it. thas what im doing. love it or hate it, read my fukin story and enjoy

  45. Dennis Hage

    tongue and cheek… is this article copyrighted?

  46. Samer calvin

    Hey …
    Someone like me from israel .. Can I copyright my script by wga and us copyright ??

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m not an Israeli copyright expert, but I recommend registering any scripts with the WGA before sending them out.

  47. Jerome Cleary

    Great info Chad, thanks

  48. Jamison Lingle

    Hi Stephanie, Thank you for this article, it was very informative. I wanted to know what you suggest for amateurs who aren’t represented but interested in submitting to screenplay competitions. What format would you suggest to show proof of copyright, if you aren’t able to keep a record of who is reading and when? Thanks again!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m not sure that I understand your question, Jamison. The chance of selling a script, getting noticed by agents and other VIPs is zero if you don’t send out your script. If you do send it out, there is always a risk that someone could steal your script, but in my opinion, this risk is very low. If your script was stolen, you own the copyright as soon as you have written the document, so you could sue and potentially get a monetary settlement for damages. This has happened, though very rarely and unfortunately, this kind of case is very expensive for an individual. Good practice is to keep notes of your drafts, keep notes of when and where you send the script and who is reading it. If these risks seem too large to you, then don’t send it out– this is a matter of personal preference.

  49. Yasmine

    Hi, my name is Yasmine and I have a good story here about:

    A sex addict cop who meet and fall in love with a modest Christian patriarchy shy women.

    I would like to get as much information as possible because I don’t have any kind of money and I know there are options so let me know.

    Thank you.

  50. ahmed jama

    to sir/madam
    i have an intellectual property that its end out come will be a paying platform app,i therefore wanted to copyright the intellectual property first through my legal team as i work on making the app…does it require a patent,and if so what is the shortest time period
    ps;please be free to giv eextra comments on this
    thanks alot

  51. Donte Traore

    Hello Stephanie

    I wanted to ask you about animated television shows.

    For the longest time, I have been extremely passionate about creating animated t.v. shows. And not so much as children’s shows with random humor but more so with depth and feeling, great action and an even greater story, like the good ole’ days. Something that people have no time investing their time in and always looking forward to watch it.

    But nowadays it feels these “cartoons” are just appealing to the new generation of today and have set the bar low for any aspiring shows to come. I wanted to know I if there are any networks out there that would even consider picking up more serious animated series. I also would like to know if share you have any experiences with animated series and any suggestions you have about writing a scripting for one. I am currently reading Syd Field’s “The Screen-writer’s Workbook” and I wanted to know if there is a difference between writing a screenplay and writing a script for one episode.

    Thank you.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Donte,

      Yes, networks are always looking for terrific material and that includes more serious animated fare. I haven’t personally worked on any animated TV shows, although I have had a number of clients who do. Yes, writing for TV and film are quite different. Here’s a brief article about the difference between film and animation writing.

  52. lumka

    Please help me copyrighting my idea.
    I just have no clue

  53. Peter

    I’d suggest changing the headline on this article. To suggest that one can copyright and idea is misleading and perpetuates misunderstanding. What one can copyright, as the law says, is a work “fixed in a tangible form”, e.g. a screenplay in the form of a digital file or a hard copy of same — as the article eventually does explain.

    A better headline would be “How to Protect Your Screenplay.”

    • Stephanie Palmer

      That’s a fair point, Peter. The people who need this information are searching on the keyword phrase “how to copyright an idea.” Once they get to the article, my goal is to clarify what one can and cannot copyright so writers can handle themselves professionally.

  54. Anthony

    Would you copyright a game show the same way you would a TV show? If not, how would you copyright a game show?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      This is a good question, but there isn’t a simple answer. I’m not an attorney, but in general the format of game shows cannot be copyrighted (which is why you often see copycat types of shows) however, you can copyright a written pitch document that includes your ideas for the show and that may offer some protection. I recommend consulting with an attorney.

  55. Thomas McRae

    Hello my name is Thomas McRae and I’m writing to you because I finished my self publishing short fiction novel called Pimp in the pulpit it’s a good book filled with drama comedy and suspense I love to mail you a copy and get your thoughts plus honest opinion I believe this book has potential and strive and that is why I like to get a idea on how to market my book to major motion picture films and possible actors thank you very much for your time best wishes sincerely Thomas McRae

  56. Samuel Ramethape

    Dear Sir/Madam my name is Mr Samuel Ramethape from Seshego zone 1 South Africa limpopo province and I did sent vice president of marvel studio my script movie on the 10th January his name is Mr Sir Jeff klein and they didn’t respond immediately as soon as possible. They receive my email actually he received my email and he told me that he will send it to the executives to look at it but he didn’t reply sooner and I want WGA to protect my idea. My movie name is. Cellphone Hacker Kid and I created a graphic design logo on the title but he didn’t reply and on the 12th. January 2017 I get a miss call from this code +960 USA and Canada code i need WGA to register my script and my number is 0717236269.

    Kind regards
    Samuel Ramethape

  57. Cletus Ikhide

    I have an idea that I want to copyright before discussing it with a potential partner organization

  58. tom mickel

    If you write an original theatrical animated screenplay – are the characters intellectual property rights owned by the writer or studio who buys /produces the project?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Good question, Tom. I’m not an attorney, but I highly recommend Clearance & Copyright by Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif.

  59. Chantel

    Hello. I know you wrote this years ago but I would like some advice. I have been wanting to write for TV for most of my life. I have tons of ideas, but there is one in particular that I’m really fond of. It’s more than just an idea; it’s practically my baby. I already know everything I want to happen in the show from beginning to end. I have been developing it for years. I don’t really care about making a lot of money. I don’t want to be rich. I just want my show seen. It is a show that is supposed to make people think and educate them while also being entertaining. If too many changes are made to it, it will destroy the message. Is there a way I could make some kind of agreement where I get consulted and can approve changes?

    Also, I read your comment on someone else’s post about credit. So first time writers don’t get credited at all? Like I said, I don’t care about money, but I do want people to know I wrote it. If it wins an Emmy, I’d like to have a trophy. Not crediting people seems unreasonable.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Chantel,

      TV is a medium that is typically developed by a group of writers, unlike writing a novel or non-fiction which is often the work of one writer. If your goal is to get your work out into the world and you want to control the final work, I suggest writing the story as a book.

      The original writer of a TV series does get credit, but it is very rare for someone to sell a TV project without having prior credits writing on other TV shows. There are many books published each year by first-time authors and you will have significantly more creative control.

      • Chantel Carter

        Thank you for your response. This is so frustrating. TV writing rules make no sense sometimes.

        I would write a book, but I literally have it thought out in episodes. Turning it into a book wouldn’t work. Reading it wouldn’t make sense. It must be seen.

        But I understand what you’re saying. I need to start small. I have other ideas that I don’t mind getting mangled.

        Once again, thank you.


    Need to know how to register and protect my movie idea

  61. Robert

    Hi Stephanie I was so happy to find this blog. I have around 10 story ideas for movies or books in my mind, 3 of which I have already outlined the plot and stories (1 romance and 2 science fiction stories). I believe these stories though inspired by other movies I have seen, are quite original or at least a refreshing take on their own. My question is, I am originally from the Philippines now living in New Zealand, can I copyright my stories in the US? And how would you suggest to write it first, in my native language (Filipino) or in English? And where to pitch it first, in the Philippines or New Zealand or the US? Now whichever country I pitch it first, can you suggest me how to protect and copyright them because my stories have twists or surprise endings that I worry about it getting stolen or copied once I pitch to someone. And once I copyrighted them, are they really protected 100% that no one will be able to steal or copy the stories especially the endings? Right now I have not told or let anyone read these stories except my wife and daughter due to these worries. Thanks in advance.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Robert,

      With the understanding that you can’t copyright your ideas, only the finished screenplay, and given that you live in New Zealand, I recommend writing the scripts in English and pitching them to producers in NZ. Copyright law varies in different countries and you could talk to an NZ-based entertainment attorney about this to get your questions answered.

  62. Paul McCormick

    I have read an old book and think it woukd make an excellent film but do not know how or where to begin ?

  63. raju

    hello madam i want to ask something. i have an very innovative idea for making some online game. i have made a core concept of idea can i have right to make copy right. i am not good at computer but i think my idea is very great and it can grow into big business so i am worried to share this to anyone before i owned the right on my idea.
    thank you and hope to hear back

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your question, Raju. I’m not an expert in copyright issues related to online gaming. I recommend consulting with an attorney.

  64. How To Copyright Your Idea | Information

    […] How To Copyright And Protect Your Ideas – Do you want to know how to copyright an idea for a movie or TV show? Former MGM exec Stephanie Palmer talks about how to copyright your ideas. Toggle navigation. […]

    • Shad England

      Hi Stephanie. I came across your blog while gathering information on what to do with a TV idea. I’m not even remotely in the industry and have absolutely no idea where to start, but was hoping maybe you could help based on what I’ve read in your blog. I’ve developed and run my idea past a few good friends and they seem to think it is excellent. But here in Iowa (a producer’s no-man’s land, I’m sure), I don’t know what to do with it. As mentioned earlier in this blog, many times the most important thing for success is who you know. Well, I know nobody. So where do I begin to get a good “pitch audience”? Thanks!

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Hi Shad, I love Iowa (and I was born there). This is a complex question, but in general unfortunately there isn’t a market for TV ideas from new writers. TV is developed internally and by established TV writers. But if you have an idea that you want to share, I recommend writing it as an article, short story, novel or other written work that you can control and publish.

  65. tabby

    In the last year I’ve been doing research into a couple of photos that were handed down within a family from the 1870s. These photos are unknown to anyone else and are of historical importance as they prove a series of facts that can’t otherwise be backed up as there are no other known surviving records from the period. The photos are of a famous person with ties to two countries. Although this person is regarded as the literal father of a particular sport in their home country this person also made important contributions to engineering, music, painting, and other fields – a literal polymath that started as a troubled youth. This person deserves a movie. I am not involved in the industry, but have developed reasonable good writing skills from my high school newspaper and from 16 years of writing online product descriptions. That does not qualify me as a book author though. This person also frankly deserves a written biography as there are only scattered information on him on the internet. I’ve only found 2 photos of him online and I have 2 additional unknown images. Could I provide myself some protection by registering a work with the copyright office that would consist of two main parts: (a) a biography of research and (b) a description of a movie based upon a timeline of events and places constructed from the research?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      In general, the more you have written down, the better. I recommend consulting with an attorney about your specific situation.

  66. Mike

    Hi! I got an idea for a TV show. The problem for me is that my English is ok, but not excellent. But for what I understand I need to write a document with my idea. and then register it at Writers Guild, but I cant find exactly where, maby you could give me a direct link? And then I have to send it to a writer, or is it to a director?

    Im from Sweden by the way 🙂

  67. Mohammad Irfan

    Plz tell me how I register my idea or concept for my safety..
    BC fwa is not proper way..
    Give me suggestions …

    Mohammad irfan

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Mohammad. Ideas themselves are not copyrightable. The specific expression (embodiment) of your idea is copyrightable.

  68. madoda dyonana

    i’m a qualified print journalist from South Africa and am finding myself drifting towards developing potential concepts for documentaries. I don’t have training & industry experience except researching. at this stage i need mentoring and

  69. Tyrone jones

    I would like to talk to someone about my ideals

  70. Mohammad irfan

    i m a indian film and tv idea and concept writer,
    one tv channel stolen my concept its a reality show, and very unique and different kind of concept, so i kindly requesting to u plz help me for copyright..
    ok bye tc,

  71. Isabel CS

    Hi Stephanie, thank you SO much for this invaluable insight on copyrighting and how to protect our ideas/pitch them.

    As a young Producer, this is super interesting and I’ve started studying the Berne Convention for Protection of Literary Works (and Cinematographic Works) as a result of reading this.

    I’d like to know, as a Non-US citizen, am I still allowed to register any scripts with the WGA? (I’ll do research on it shortly, and will search to see if you have another article that talks about it more).

    Thank you again and definitely on my top 5 ‘Producing-related’ websites, it rocks!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, I believe you can, Isabel. Please let me know if you discover something different and I will update this post.

  72. Casey

    Are online legal services, like “Legal Zoom”, also an option?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, that is worth considering depending on your needs.

  73. Chris

    Hello all. If I register my book for copyright will it be protected from someone making it a movie without my consent? Thanks in advance.


    • Stephanie Palmer

      To get a film made, producers need to purchase the film rights from you and would not be able to do that without your consent.

  74. Brittany Parker

    Please can someone email me as to how do I get my script idea Patton because I told it to someone and I’m scared they will share it with someone who will steal it!! Just need to know how to protect my gift of ideas of artistry

  75. Tanya Moore

    I have a billion dollar reality show that no one now about but me if doing and i need to copy write it before i put ut together real life real drama real funny stuff everything more interesting i need to copy write it

  76. Kermit Williams

    I have a storm house idea that can be a movie or book idea but i need funding or investors to get things going its great for investors i can even sell this idea to the public in a kit learn more look great on a wall a innovative kit .

  77. Richard

    I have a great idea and have written a synopsis for a TV show or movie based on life experiences. Should I present it now or should I write a book about it and then present it?

  78. Mason Rakovszky

    Stephanie, I have a problem of trying to get my work out there, and I was wondering how do people do it? I’ve already finished writing the first three scripts to my sitcom, the thing I lack is trying to find someone who would pick it up. And thank you for the info.

  79. Andrew Strickland

    Please let me know when and where we can talk.

  80. Jessica

    Thank you for the info Stephanie! Is it better to copyright just the television idea as a whole, or is it necessary to trademark the characters in the story as well? What’s the major difference between copyright and trademark?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You’d really have to talk to an attorney about this. Here’s some information about that: But my POV is that once you’ve written it, you have the copyright, and trademarking a character is likely to be both expensive and unnecessary.

  81. Tim

    If you have multiple versions or slight variations of the same concept/premise, do you have to copyright or register each version with the WGA – and pay it’s corresponding fees to protect the alternate versions?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Good question- it’s a judgement call. It depends on how “slight” the variation is. In general, I think one version of the script registered is sufficient to the extent that the WGA offers any protection at all.

  82. Mark McCarroll

    Stephanie , thank you ! I shared a video documentary idea with a person I did not know well and he took over the same concept. So I created a 5 minute movie trailer of the subject matter or idea and posted on Youtube in the hope it’s ‘ fixed in a tangible means of expression ‘ as it is my embodiment of my idea. Am I protected…or.. able to now copyright this idea ?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, as soon as you created the trailer, that is a tangible means of expression. I recommend consulting with an attorney if you want to ensure your idea is protected.

  83. Crissy Anderson

    I am in the process of writing a story for a 1 hour cable show. I am very new to this and my goal is to stay on as a Co-Ep and to maintain creative control. How would I go about pitching my ideas to networks and asking to keep creative control?

  84. Derek Ince

    Hi Stephanie,

    am I correct in saying that the US writers guild on protects ideas for U.S. use and if I had a TV idea for other countries such as Australia (where I am from) or Canada, Italy, England etc then I would need to seek copyright protection separately from each country? Is there a way of copyrighting an idea globally? For example, I assume the Bachelorette is copyrighted somewhere and other countries buy the rights?
    Derek Ince

    • Stephanie Palmer

      To my knowledge there isn’t a global copyright system. It’s per country and the rules are different in different countries. Remember that you can’t copyright an idea, only an execution of that idea.

  85. D-rock Deeds

    I need help I have a idea for a tv show I shot/edited some pilots about 6 with more to make I want to put them on my private YouTube account for feedback is that a wise move.? Sincerely D.Deeds

    • Stephanie Palmer

      To get feedback, yes, that is wise.

  86. Clinton Simril

    I have a idea an a few questions on how to get it copyrighted

  87. Jelena

    Hi, my name is Jelena and I am from Serbia. I am interested to know if I write a book and want to publish it in the US, can I protect my rights although i am not a US citizen? How can I take care of my book when I finish it ?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Not sure about this one, Jelena. You’ll need to check with an attorney to be sure.

  88. Dru

    Do you have to have membership for WGA?

  89. Aaron kelly

    I have a great idea to make a loot of money please get ahold of me

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Aaron,

      Please email me at and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.

  90. Jamie Marciano

    can I try to pitch a movie idea as in just a plot perhaps or amazing story line to a producer without writing a script or book myself and just try to sell the story plot

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Jamie,

      You can certainly try, but more often than not, the only projects that are sold as pitches are those from experienced writers or projects with very “high concepts.”

  91. bbeebobb

    Hi I am an ordinary person not one that wants to become a screenwriter at all I just have a particular story I want to tell via movie I am sure that if my idea is professionally done it will be a big success but I don’t know how to go about getting someone to write it for me or produce it for me. What should I do?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your question! I’d first write some sort of treatment or article based on this story that can be shared with others.

  92. Mike

    Hi Steohanie,
    I just had what I think is an amaxing idea for a tv show. In looking through this Q&A, you advocate selling the idea. Does this just mean to pitch it to someone that can make it happen and give up all control? Suppose it really is a great idea, how does one generate an ongoing income without being involved beyond the initial idea?
    Regards, Mike

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. If you sell your idea on pitch, you should make sure that in the contract you are credited as “creator” or receive some sort of “producer” credit. While you will have to collaborate with other, you still should be able to be part of the show in some form.

  93. AJ

    Great article Stephanie. I have an idea for a reality show that I’m finalizing the written treatment for with the plan to create a sizzle reel as a next step. It follows the “Chopped” reality show format but it’s a totally different subject matter. Should I still try to register it with the WGA and have it formally Copyrighted or because it follows an established format it’s not worth the trouble and I should just focus on trying to get in produced/sold? Also, is there harm in being transparent and mentioning “Chopped” (or any other existing show to draw parallels) specifically in the treatment? Thanks so much for any thoughts/suggestions.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi AJ,

      I’d recommend always registering all your material with the WGA. If you feel like Chopped is an ideal reference, you can probably mention it, but be cautious in doing so as not to confuse decision makers if the content is really that different.

  94. James w percell

    I need to copyright my treatment for animation..

  95. Mark A. Greene

    My daughter died a very tragic death. Her death was “breaking new” on the major new media for several days after the discovery of her body just off the campus where she attended college. On the first anniversary of her death I wrote and released to the public a three page letter with two photo of just what caused her death. The letter release was well received. I did this because thousands a year later did not know what fully happened to her. Everyday people are dying the way my daughter did, but for the most part it is a media blackout over these kinds of deaths. To bring much needed public exposure to these deaths, I feel a film documentary would go along way in informing the public. The way she died is dramatized in my letter. People who are always stunned after reading it. My question: Who can I get to read my story to confirm that if filmed properly it would indeed make an impact of this danger that is lurking around the corner waiting for it’s next victim.

    Also I wonder if I should have my dramatized story copyrighted first. If you read the letter you would see why there are those who would not want this type of story dramatized on film, for it would go along way in causing public and legislature action to take place. I know I have written a lot. Can you point me in the right direction? Simply, Mark.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Mark – Thank you for your comment. Without knowing the full context of the events you described, it’s a bit difficult to give you concrete answers. Please email me at and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance regarding your questions about developing your material into a film/tv project.

  96. Christopher West

    How do i copyright a movie “idea” and script.
    How to have the idea made into an actual movie.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Christopher – Thank you for your comment. If it’s just an idea, I’d recommend registering it with the WGA, which allows you to register ideas. In terms of writing your cool and idea with the goal of making it, please email me at and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.

  97. Martin Beek

    Hello Stephanie. I my opinion every first step should be dating/depositing the idea. In my business (film production and tv-show licensing) our ideas are our income… We have always deposited all our ideas (on paper) through traditional notarial deeds. Costly, and we were still trusting our ideas in the hands of another human being. Alas, our motto has become “trust no-one”… From may 2018 we use two different online methods for dating and depositing our ideas, drafts, scripts, and pitches in a way that is 100% safe (at least for the first one), without human interference and that holds up in court in case of a dispute. One is (free for occasional use and fully client-side, using blockchain technology) and the other one is…. simply GMail! I e-mail the content of the document to myself. If it returns, it has been datestamped and certified (hashed) by Google’s mail server. The latter being maybe a little less safe.
    Just my 2 cents 😉


    Martin Beek
    Marvels Film Production

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for the comment, Martin!

  98. Esteban Jesus Cons

    I am anxious to copyright my screenplay idea. Please help me as soon as possible.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Esteban – Thanks for your comment. Hopefully the article in which you commented will offer you guidance on just how to do that.

  99. Chris baran

    How much does it cost to have a storyline patented there is no screenplay just a story line,a movie company wants to use it

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Chris – Great question! All you need to do is register it with the WGA. With the WGA you can register “story” ideas.

  100. Chantrena Wilson

    Trying to see how I get copyright to I show I came up with

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Chantrena – Thank you for you comment! If you have trouble copyrighting your script, you can always register it through the WGA HERE.