Idea theft

My screenwriting studies have led me to discover a very big difference between scriptwriters and authors; idea theft. It is pretty universally accepted in the book writing world that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all get ‘inspired’ by other people’s tales, to put our own slant on them and write a ‘but what if this happened instead’ story.

Screenwriters don’t seem to hold the same belief. The universal law of copyright is not enough to cover your screenplay when you send it out, you actually need to register it (for a fee) with an organisation whose sole purpose is to say that you have written this script at this time. Most US production houses won’t even open a script unless it is registered here.

I guess the thing that makes me think it is weird is that I’ve got several rejections for my stories where the publisher says that they liked my story, but they have just accepted a similar story. Now while this might just be a line, I believe them. In all likelihood they may have just accepted a story about vampires that don’t sparkle when the sun hits them, or a monster/alien/genetically modified creature hunting people finally gets killed by our hero. At their core, they are not original ideas, it is all about execution; do we like the hero, is it full of typos, is it logical?

So why are screenplays so different? I know we are talking about fewer words than a novel, so language and voice is not as different between scripts, but story, character and theme are still king. The chances of two people doing the exact same thing are pretty remote, and if they have stolen it copyright and plagiarism laws cover you.

I guess I will go through with the whole registration thing if I do manage to finish a script, I want it to be read after all, but I can’t help but think it is a just another way to scam money from already struggling artists by preying on writer paranoia.

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