You pitch an idea to a production company, nothing happens, and later you find your idea being used in a script.
What to do?
It’s long been established that you can copyright a manuscript, but not an idea. But wait!
Legal theory says that if you suspect that your idea has been hijacked, you can sue. On what grounds?
Try these: Misappropriation. Misrepresentation. Unfair Competition. Unfair Business Practices. Interference with Business Advantage.
The Copyright Act, passed by Congress in 1976, served to place idea thefts under the copyright heading, and it became exceedingly difficult to prove a similarity of ideas, whereas a completed writing was more straightforward, where substantial similarity has to be proved.
Then in 1999, one Jeff Grosso sued Miramax over his submitted script “The Shell Game” which in his opinion appeared later as the movie “Rounders”.
Copyright actions are heard in Federal Court, not state, and a judge dismissed the suit, usual result.
But the Ninth Circuit, on appeal, while dismissing the copyright claim, found that there was an IMPLIED CONTRACT, and his claim could stand. The chief judge, in her opinion, wrote that “a contract sometimes may be implied even in the absence of an express promise to pay.”
Contract matters are heard in State Court, not Federal.
Attorney Gail Migdal Title, (who Lynn and I had the misfortune to come up against in our fight with Universal Television over the fiasco of House Calls), heads the fight that producers are waging to get this ruling overturned. Lew Wasserman is gone now, so without his backing, perhaps their task will not be that easy.
She and her team have now petitioned the Supreme Court for their interpretation of the law, pointing out the inherent conflict, which in theory could give rise to opposite results. Stay tuned for this, it will effect all writers.