Content creators, influencers, freelance journalists, writers, producers, or entrepreneurs with an idea should be aware of their rights and protections before they pitch an idea for an article, TV show, movie, product or project. But can stealing an idea be a breach of someone’s rights? The simple answer is: an idea is not copyrightable. The complicated answer is: it depends.
These days, it seems like every person has an idea for a TV show, movie or article. The growing number of independent contractors with ideas for the next big thing means that idea after idea is being pitched in order to make them a reality. To take those ideas and turn them into an actual product requires some risk, the risk that someone will steal the idea away from its creator. One post on social media, video on YouTube, or pitch to the wrong person can make that idea vulnerable to being copied or expanded upon quickly.
So, how can someone protect their idea?
An idea may not be protected by copyright but, once an expression of an idea is created, a writing or recording of the idea is immediately protected under common law copyright. This protection only extends to what is actually put on paper or otherwise recorded. This thin level of protection can be enforced in the case of a violation of copyright if there is an exact or obvious copy of the original’s elements. Therefore any treatment or pitch must be detailed enough to distinguish it as the original idea.
Additional protection can be secured by keeping a “paper trail” of all dates and receivers of the idea and/or asking the individual hearing the pitch or idea sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). If the idea is for a product, plans for an invention can be trademarked or patented in order to prevent the idea from being developed elsewhere.
No matter how much protection is given to an idea, it is important to note that the basis of the idea can still be used by someone else so long as the end result is different than the original treatment or plan.
At our law firm, we assist clients with legal issues related to entertainment, social media, intellectual property and business. If you have an idea and would like to discuss how to protect it or you feel your idea has been stolen, contact our firm for an initial consultation.
 RB JEFFERSON, The Reasons Why You Can’t Protect Your Reality TV Show Ideas, http://www.lawyersrock.com/reality-tv-show-ideas/
 GENE QUINN, Protecting Ideas: Can Ideas Be Protected or Patented?, http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2014/02/15/protecting-ideas-can-ideas-be-protected-or-patented/id=48009/