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How to protect a concept for a film when making an oral pitch?

In this video, Entertainment Lawyer Gordon Firemark answers a question about how to protect a concept for a film when making an oral pitch.



I'm Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer questions from entertainment industry professionals like you, so you can take your career to the next level.

I'll give my answer in just a second.

So, Kelsey wrote in that she sent her logline to a producer, explaining that her concept for the film is something that's never been done before. The producer has now contacted her to schedule a phone conversation about it, and she's wondering if it's dangerous to reveal the concept by phone without any recorded evidence that there's a transaction or agreement in place about what will happen if he likes it. She wants to know what she should do to seize this opportunity but still protect her idea.

First, I should point out that if all you're pitching is a ‘concept' or idea, there's not much protection offered in the law. Copyright protection only covers fully expressed works that embody those ideas. The ideas themselves may not be entitled to any protection. So, it's important that you have some kind of agreement, however informal, that you'll be paid and/or hired if the producer likes what you pitch.

There'a a latin proverb that says “Scripta manent verba volant”. Translated, that means “spoken words fly away, written words remain” And I think you'll be hard pressed to find a lawyer who'd disagree with the idea that a written contract is better than an unwritten one.

But the fact is, oral pitches happen all the time in hollywood. In other businesses, folks use confidential non-disclosure agreements to deal with this kind of thing. But in show business, that's just not done. So, the next best thing is to do your best to document the exchange both before- and after-the-fact.

So, confirm the appointment by email. Make sure you are explicit and clear about your intention to submit the material you're pitching for sale, along with your services as a writer. If possible, get the producer to acknowledge this by return email.

Then, after the meeting, follow up with another email or a handwritten note thanking the producer for his or her time. This is another opportunity to be clear about your intentions. This is an offer to sell your material and writing services.

And, that's about all you can really do. Of course it also makes sense to be sure you're dealing with reputable people. Real, established producers don't need to steal ideas for their films.

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This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for viewers'’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.

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