Legal Mumb Jumbo

October 18th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

A long time ago, when we were young and innocent, we temped for a Major Hollywood Producer. Our major duties were to cut radishes and place them in a bowl of water in the office refrigerator (he never ate them, but we snuck more than a few), to carry his shoes from his office to the hallway when the shoeshine dude showed up (which is why we didn’t pursue full-time employment with MHP), and to return unsolicited screenplays unopened. We received very few instructions in the course of our employment, but one was a golden rule: they are not to be opened. Ever.

This is a fairly standard rule in the industry. Lawsuits, even those settled out of court, are not cheap.

If you are an astute observer of the news, you will notice a trend: for every major motion picture released, there is a corresponding lawsuit about stealing ideas. You can set your watch by it. It is, if you think about, absolutely amazing. How is that with all the screenwriters in this city, they can’t come up with an original story? That was a rhetorical question, by the way.

There is a truism in writing — it’s not the idea, it’s the execution. And the court agreed. However, they also indicated there was an implied contract between the producer (Miramax) and author of the screenplay allegedly stolen (is it still alleged if the thing has been decided? We don’t think so.). In other words, receipt of unsolicited materials or ideas starts the contractual obligation. It is interesting that the article does not note the disposition of the screenplay — was it read, was it returned, was it ever seen by Miramax?

We know, what does this have to do with you? Well, presumably, you’re a writer. You may write screenplays. In that case, consider this a new hoop. If you’re a novelist, this ruling, that pitching ideas or submitting material that has (presumably) been read in-house starts the contractual clock, could affect how agents and editors accept material. The motion picture industry comes with built-in financial incentive (we used to puzzle over why they didn’t just let the darn thing go to court, then we saw the costs of just thinking about going to court). The publishing industry? Depends on the situation.

We are curious to see how this plays out once the implications trickle through the various industries.

File Under: Tools and Craft