So often, when I start a new series of classes or attend a conference on screenwriting, I hear the same refrain: How can I register my stuff so no one steals my ideas?
And, as logic would dictate, the question always comes from the most junior writers in the room, if they have yet to write at all.
There is no denying that the universe is a dangerous place. Global climate change necessitates we choose higher floors in a high-rise to ensure our laptops are not flooded by rising sea levels. I always write with my back to the wall so that people in the condos across the street can’t take telephoto shots of what I’m writing. And whenever I publicly speak the word “tadpole”, I actually mean screenplay…likewise, “garlic”, “symbiont” and “purse” for protagonist, antagonist and onomatopoeia. (Don’t bother memorizing those; I have already changed them.)
All in an effort to make sure that no one steals my ideas. They are mine. I created them. They are owned by me. (Much as with Miss Ann Elk’s theory about the brontosaurus.)
Ah, but wait a tic. Just a mo’. Hold your horses and tell them that you love them.
I forgot one teensy little thing. A bit of a fly in the old ointment. You see: YOU CAN’T PROTECT IDEAS!
1) I defy you to actually show me a completely new idea, and not just something old that you’ve redecorated.
2) The idea is not the important bit…it’s what you do with the idea. Give 12 people the same idea and you will end up with 12 very different stories.
3) There is every reason to believe that your idea is shit. No offense intended. Most of my ideas are shit. That’s how you find the truly brilliant ones, by moving the shit out of the way so the good ones are more visible. (See also: Miss Ann Elk’s theory about the brontosaurus.)
I applaud you for having ideas, shit or otherwise, because it’s not easy to do and is a valuable first step in your art. But not until you’ve completed your story, however, do you have something to protect.
You have completed your story, haven’t you? If your idea was solid, then you should be anxious to tell the story. If your idea is good, I want to hear your story. Seriously. No kidding. We need more good stories.
The story—not the idea—is where you will shine as an artist. The story tells me everything about you. It puts multiple facets of your personality and belief system on display and says: Hey universe! Here I am!
That, my friends, is worth protecting. That is what you register somewhere so that no one can tell exactly your story without your permission.
Once you’ve reached that point, I then recommend:
Writers’ Guild of America – West (web site is easier to use than the East chapter)
The organizations have a reciprocal agreement, so registry with one is sufficient for both the United States and Canada.
Unfortunately, I only know of these two organizations, so if anyone wants to contribute others in Europe, Asia or anywhere else, please do.
Yes, you want to protect your assets, but you’ll be a lot better off putting your energies into creating assets that are worth protecting.
Fort Knox isn’t meant to be a kitty litter box.