Ideas Are Commonly Stolen: Another Hollywood Hoax

One commodity that will never be in short supply among writers is paranoia.

Yes, from time to time writers’ intellectual property is infringed upon, but that happens rarely, and it is virtually never intentional.

When it happens, it happens because of the nature of a creative community tossing about creative ideas in discussions at delis and taco joints, in offices, on sound stages, at the golf course. Inevitably from time to time someone unconsciously incorporates a notion that he believes he invented when it actually originated in a conversation with another writer that the first writer (or producer) has flat-out forgotten.

Studios, networks, and production companies have no interest in stealing material. A studio feature these days, including prints and promotion, costs upwards of a hundred million dollars. Is it in a producer’s interest to risk the entire enterprise by cheating a writer out of even so much as a few million dollars, which is to say one or two of three percent of the entire budget?

The reason so many people believe there is so much theft is because of the massive over-appreciation of the value of ideas. An idea is merely that: an idea. You can spit it out in a sentence of two. Real value resides not in ideas but stories.

Lots of people seem to think that Art Buchwald broke the bank by winning millions of dollars from Paramount when they ‘stole’ his script, which purportedly became the movie Coming to America. In fact the judge awarded Buchwald one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Does that sound like a lot of money? Consider that the plaintiff’s cost for the litigation was more than three million dollars.

Buchwald didn’t win; he lost.

Instead of worrying that their screenplays will be stolen, writers should worry that the scripts should be good enough that someone might actually want to steal them.

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