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Copyrighting after the work is published.

Posted: Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:19 pm
by SmithGraham
Hi all,

I have a few questions regarding my situation. I came up with the idea for the awards show, but as i understand you can't possibly copyright an idea :( . Problem is that i know i can't make it happen alone & want to share the idea with someone who will be able to help me to get it done, but how can i make sure that he/she won't copyright my idea, trademark logo, or phrases used. Post short video online or create Website first, put the content up & copyright it later? Can i copyright a domain?
What kind of proof i would need to provide in case
of suing?

It can turn out that my idea is worth nothing, but it can also be highly valuable, so before registering copyright/trademark (which is not cheap)
i want to know if i have other options.

Thank you,


Posted: Wed Feb 18, 2015 1:57 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Graham,
As you correctly identify, you can't have copyright in an idea on its own, but if you 'fix' your idea by writing it down or making a video of it then this fixation becomes the expression of your idea and that is subject to copyright. Formats for TV shows and the like can be tricky to protect in this way, so you need to pay particular attention to setting out the unique aspects of your idea that no other show in the genre has. Make sure you put your name and the date on your written work. Copyright exists from that point and you don't need to register it, although there are commercial companies who will offer to do this for you. A much cheaper option is to lodge a copy with a friend or family member who can then attest to the date of creation and that you are the owner of the idea (they don't need to see any details of it, just hold a sealed envelope containing them on your behalf). However, be aware that copyright can often be less useful in such circumstances than you might imagine. Say your idea involved, among other things, having the audience equipped with bells and whistles, so that they could vote for whoever was in the running for an award. The 'substantial' part of that idea might lie in the provision of bells and whistles, in place of the more usual applause or cheering. So if someone else proposes that the audience in their award show would have buzzers and hooters, there may not be any infringement of your copyright, because your 'idea' has not been directly copied. Of course this is a very simplistic example, but you need to be aware of the limitations as well as the strengths of copyright.
You mentioned phrases, by which I assume you mean things like catch phrases ("Nice to see you, to see you, nice"). If they are sufficiently creative and long enough, then copyright can be used to protect them but it is quite difficult to predict in advance which phrases will catch on, and which won't. It may well be that this kind of detail does not emerge until quite late on in the development process, in which case there may be a problem about who is the author of the specific phrase (you, the production company, the compere or some other person). Again copyright will be established once the phrase is recorded, either on paper in the form of a script, or on videotape.
Once you have encapsulated your concept in whatever medium you choose, you are in a position to pitch it to those who might be interested in exploiting it.
From this point on, you need to insist on those you pitch to signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). NDAs are standard practice in many parts of the creative industry, so no-one is likely to object to this. You can get hold of standard forms of NDA from a number of websites (such as here) but make sure that the one you select covers exactly what you need it to cover. Better still, if you can afford it, get a suitably qualified solicitor to draw up a bespoke NDA for you. Once someone is bound by an NDA, they must observe the confidentiality of your information and obviously they may not exploit it without first having entered into a licensing deal with you. The specifics of this should ideally be contained in the NDA.
The detail of the steps you take from then on are outside the scope of this website, but one problem which can arise is that the potential backer, having heard your pitch, then goes away and comes up with a format that differs from yours but clearly has some similarities too. Think of X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. You then have the difficult choice of whether to try and sue for breach of confidence.
Finally you also mentioned trade marks and domains. If you have a particular name or logo in mind for your show, then these could be registered as trade marks as long as they meet the basic eligibility criteria and haven't already been registered for something similar. However given the expense of registering, this is probably best left until you have found a backer or production partner, since trade marks are intended to protect goods and services in the course of trade and not just in general use. Domain names (more accurately URLs or URIs) do not attract copyright because they are 'facts' and in any case they are too short to qualify. However there are certain rules when it comes to domain name registration and dispute resolution, whereby owners of trade marks or registered company names can take action against cyber-squatters or others who have no legitimate reason for registering the same domain name.

Posted: Fri Feb 20, 2015 2:12 pm
by SmithGraham
Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it. Some great info there!