Copyright Laws

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Micheal, Sep 4, 2005.

  1. Micheal

    Micheal Screenwriter

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    I would like to "copyright" some written material. How does one do this? I have no experience in this area so I welcome any experienced suggestions.

    Thanks in advance,
     
  2. BrianW

    BrianW Cinematographer

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    Copyright is automatic with any written material, and has been for over two decades, internationally. Simply affix a copyright statement to it (with the little copyright symbol) with the copyright owner's name and year, and an "all rights reserved" qualifier.

    If you need to litigate your copyright (i.e., if someone infringes your copyright), you will need to register it before you file your court case. But this is not necessary unless you plan to file a court action. Until then, the automatic copyright will be sufficient to protect your rights.

    Although I'm quite sure this is accurate, I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not giving legal advice over the Internet. So the risk is yours and yours alone if you take what I've said as legal advice.
     
  3. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    Brian is correct, you hold the copyright as soon as you create a written (or certain other) work. The most important piece of evidence in defending your rights is establishing the date of creation. Registering is just an accepted form of proof of ownership should you need to litigate, but is not mandatory. Although I don't think you legally need notice anymore (since it should be assumed that any work is held under copyright unless stated otherwise), it can't hurt to include "© 2005 your name here. all rights reserved."

    I would disagree that this protects you in any way from infringement (nothing does), but it serves notice to anyone stealing your work that the rights are restricted. It would be up to you to launch a lawsuit and prove that the work is yours in order to stop the infringement, which in 99% of cases isn't worth the effort.

    I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I have dealt with copyright in my own work for more than two decades.
     
  4. Micheal

    Micheal Screenwriter

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    Really? What if someone steals your work and you can prove that you had written it long before they did. Shouldn't that make it obvious?

    Thanks for the information guys. I didn't realize it was that easy.
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    You may want to check the specifics of Canadian copyright law, which no doubt differs in subtle ways from American law and the various international conventions.



    "Should" and "is" are very different things, and what is "obvious" means nothing at all in a court of law. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  6. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    That's great, but if there is no substantial monetary stakes involved, the cost of finding the infringer and bringing a suit are often more than the effort is worth.

    I have had a large amount of my work stolen, and would have had no problem proving it was mine, however the legal opinion I got from a well respected lawyer was that the amount of time, money and energy I would expend in pursuing the perpetrator (who I actually had a good idea of) wasn't worth it. I won't repeat the advice I got, but it wasn't legal. [​IMG]
     
  7. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    I don't know Canadian law. I would suggest that you read a tutorial at the very least, such as www.lib.unb.ca/instruction/CopyrightFAQs.html , which links to the English version of the Canadian Copyright Act at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-42/index.html .

    Generally the international treaty known as the Berne Convention did away in the 1980s with most "registration formalities" concerning copyrights among the signatory countries. In US law, copyrights inhere immediately upon the work being "fixed in a tangible media" (e.g. writing your work out on paper or on a computer disk). However registration is still needed in the US prior to beginning enforcement litigation, at which time you will already have a lawyer anyway.
     
  8. Carl Miller

    Carl Miller Screenwriter

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    If it's written work, you can mail a copy of the work to yourself and leave it sealed when you receive it. The postmark on the envelope serves as your proof of when it was written. It's called the poor man's copyright.

    Having done this was enough for me to stop someone who had copied all the articles from my web site and sold them as an e-book.

    As already mentioned, you'd still need the registration to pursue legal action against someone infringing, but doing this can be helpful in threatening your way through a copyright infringement of written work without taking legal action.
     
  9. BrianW

    BrianW Cinematographer

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    In the U.S., there are statutory penalties for copyright infringement that go above and beyond damages (i.e., monetary stakes involved), which ups the ante for any court action. This makes it worth going after (or at least threatening to go after) even the mild copyright infringer who make welded sculptures of you artwork and sells ten a year in yard sales. My understanding is that the statutory penalties are there to level the playing field, so even the "lowliest" copyright holders who don't own something as valuable as the Harry Potter books can still avail themselves of court's indulgence to protect their copyrights.
     
  10. andrew markworthy

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    It also depends what you are trying to copyright. E.g. if you wrote down a list of football teams and then tried to prosecute newspapers that printed the same lists for stealing your 'idea', then you wouldn't get very far. There has to be evidence of intellectual effort and novelty.
    Even then, proving breach of copyright can be tricky, I've written several textbooks, and on a couple of occasions have spotted passages in newly-published books and magazine articles that look suspiciously like close paraphrases of my work. However, a paraphrase is not a direct copy, and proving a breach is very very difficult. I've just contented myself with the thought that imitation is ... etc.
     
  11. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Every authority I've ever read suggests that this is pretty much worthless in legal terms as it is too easy to fake. In the matter of web articles hosted on a server owned by a third party that file time and date stamps and back-up tapes (less likely to be messed with because the host company has no stake in the infringement claim) would be much better evidence. For that matter, so would live witnesses. If I've written a novel and let my mother, my boss, and two friends read it this summer, their testimony under oath will help establish that the work existed in tangible form this year than mailing myself sealed envelope would.

    Another point: You can't copyright basic plots, concepts or ideas. This isn't trademark law. You can only copyright your own unique finished work. That means that your copyright can't be infringed if it hasn't been shown to someone. Nobody can steal an unpublished work that only the author has ever read. Even if someone later, by chance, publishes a book or produces a movie with an almost identical story and characters, that's coincidence, not theft, unless you can prove the people responsible had access to your manuscript. If I wrote a novel in 1972 about a Medi Knight named Duke Skyhopper and his adventures fighting the evil empire, I couldn't sue George Lucas or Fox after Star Wars opened, even if I could prove that my manuscript existed first. I'd have to prove that Lucas or someone at Fox saw or easily could have seen my work and therefore had the ability to copy it.

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  12. Carl Miller

    Carl Miller Screenwriter

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    Well, I certainly wouldn't agree with the assessment that it's worthless. Such proof of my copyright to my web content was all I needed to compell the person who stole and packaged my work for resale to cease and desist...It was also enough to get him to turn over the sales report from the 3rd party he used to sell the product, and to fork over half the proceeds. I got exactly what I asked, and all I had to do was mail him one package of my copyrighted articles sealed with a poormans copyright and a threat of legal action.

    I recovered over $4,000 and it was all accomplished without spending a single cent on a lawyer, and no hassle of contacting a web host.

    Granted, this type of thing will only work if you're dealing with a small time content thief who is fairly easily intimidated, but this describes a large percentage of those who steal the work of others on the web.

    Everything you mentioned has validity, but none of it is always as easy as it seems, or even possible in all cases. In my case, the web host option for date stamps wouldn't have helped because my content was off line for a couple of months, making my original date stamps from a web host for proof, not even an option.

    Additionally, web hosts are not legally required to turn over such information. Those that are willing, will almost always subject you to the DMCA procedures, effectively requiring you to assert your copyrights to the material to them, before they will even consider helping you.

    I've had a fair amount of experience with web based infringement, and in my experience, the poorman's copyright is one of several tools at your disposal you should use.

    Consider it a very very low cost, no risk investment to use along with the things you mentioned if possible...And add it onto using archive.org as a means to prove original web publication as well. That has been used several times successfully to establish a time frame for copyright claims of printed web material.

    It's no good in a legal proceeding by itself, I'll give you that. But worthless? No way.
     
  13. Vincent Matis

    Vincent Matis Second Unit

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  14. Dana Fillhart

    Dana Fillhart Supporting Actor

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    If you are interested in distributing your works online for non-commercial use, but still want to protect your rights with respect to commercial use, derivative works, and attribution (credit), take a look into CreativeCommons.org. I've written a book and released it under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license; this is only one example of what CC offers - other license options are available.
     
  15. Micheal

    Micheal Screenwriter

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    This is why I asked. I'm working on a screenplay and I was wondering what would be the best way to "shop it around". I would like to do this without seeing my work appear in a very SIMILAR movie. [​IMG]

    Do I send it to certain individuals via Registered mail? Will that cover me or could they just hand it off to a second party and rob me blind? Is there a "safe" way to go about this?

    Thanks for all the advice guys!
     
  16. Vincent Matis

    Vincent Matis Second Unit

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    To avoid any complaints, I think that movie studios return UNOPENED envelops if they know it contains an unsolicited script.
     
  17. andrew markworthy

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    The same goes for a lot of pop groups receiving demo tapes from unknown bands. It would be far too easy for someone to claim that an established group's latest hit record was plagiarised from a demo tape sent to them.
    There's also another form of plagiarism that's rumoured to have happened more than once in Academia. Young hopeful researcher gets a great idea and goes to see famous professor. Famous professor rubbishes the idea and the young researcher goes away dispirited. Several months later, famous professor gets a huge research grant to examine ... you've guessed it. It is very very difficult to prove plagiarism, because generally only the basic idea for a study has been discussed, not the details, so if there is a complaint and the researcher can produce notes with proof of date of origin of their idea, etc, all the professor has to claim is that he and the young researcher happened to be thinking along the same lines and had produced similar ideas at about the same time (a far from uncommon situation in science).
     
  18. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Yes. Get an agent.

    The chances that your script is so good and so original that somebody would lift whole sections of it and make a movie are pretty much non-existent. You're a completely unknown writer with no negotiating clout whatsoever. Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier just to buy the thing from you if they really think it is shootable?

    It is precisely to avoid annoying lawsuits sparked by quite casual resemblances between somebody's script and a movie they make that the studios return unsolicited scripts unopened. Some of them will accept a script if you submit it with a signed copy of their standard release form. Other than that, they want scripts to be submitted by agents. They don't want to deal with the writer directly when it comes to money.

    Look, even if a studio made a film after you sent them a script that resembled your idea you can't assume they copied it from you. If what inspired you to write the script in the first place was a news story, or the success of a book or another film on a similar theme chances are that a dozen other writers have cranked out similar scripts. Look how often Hollywood turns out two or three movies or TV shows that closely resemble one another right around the same time - which given how long movies take to get made usually means that they were all in production at the same time and one could not have influenced the other. (Can you say Dante's Peak and Volcano? How about The Abyss and Deep Star Six?)

    You can protect yourself by registering your script with The Writers Guild of America - West the union that represents Hollywood screenwriters. You can't join the Guild until you sell a script (and then you have to if you plan to sell any more [​IMG]), but non-members can register their scripts for a fee. They can also provide you with a list of agents who have signed the WGA(w) Minimum Basic Agreement, and indicate which ones are accpeting new clients and will read unsolicited screenplays. (Not all of them will. Those who do will generally want to see several samples of your work, not just a single screenplay.)

    No reputable agent, Hollywood or literary, ever charges a fee of any kind. An agent makes his/her money by sellling your work and taking a percentage of the price - period. Stay away from anyone who asks for a "reading fee" or the like.

    Hope this helps.

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  19. Paul McElligott

    Paul McElligott Cinematographer

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  20. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Paul:

    We must have posted at almost the same moment from 3,000 miles apart! You win the award for brevity, though. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     

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