Copyright: Your Greatest Invisible Asset
What is copyright? Copyright is the right of a creator to own, profit from, sell or license what they have created. It is a type of intellectual property, but is different to a patent (which covers a process or invention, like a new drug) or a design (which is a template for something that can be manufactured commercially – like Trunki) or a trade mark (which is a brand name or slogan to identify and differentiate yourself from others in the marketplace).
What can be copyrighted? Examples are music, books, scripts or photographs. Ideas in themselves cannot be copyrighted. It's the execution of that idea into an original work that can be copyrighted.
How does the law work to protect copyright? A photo, song, audiovisual or written creation is automatically protected the moment it is finished: the challenge lies in proving that it is you, and not someone else, that created it. For many years, to prove copyright, an author would post their work to their lawyers or banker by registered post and ask them to keep the package unopened with the postmarked date-stamp as proof of creation. Now, there are other ways you can prove your ownership, but things have not moved on that much.
Can I register copyright in the UK? There is no official UK copyright registration system, but you can register it online with the US copyright office, which carries weight internationally and can always be pointed to as proof that you registered something on a specific date. You can find the US copyright office at https://www.copyright.gov/ and it costs US$55 per registration if you do it direct online. Often, screenwriters register their work with the Writer's Guild of America (even British ones) as it is another way of proving that it's your screenplay and not someone else's. You can also use the little © symbol to show others it's your work. For example: a copyright statement might read: “ © 2017 Jane Smith All Rights Reserved”.
I've got an idea for a book or a film. How do I protect it? The more detailed your description of the idea, the better, for example if you write a twenty page treatment of a film: that treatment is copyright the moment it's created, as it will count as an original work. Ideas are cheap: it's the execution of that idea into something tangible that makes it capable of being protected by copyright law. So if you're pitching your work, you should keep track of who you meet with, and when. Sometimes a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) is appropriate, but generally you'd see them more in the case of an industrial patent or commercial design (which are not copyrightable works in the way a book is). In books, TV and film, often the person you're pitching to won't like signing an NDA because they might think that you don't trust them.
Having a lawyer around to advise you is useful. If you have any questions at all, please contact Brian Levine, Head of Media and Entertainment on 01935 846258 or email Brian.firstname.lastname@example.org.