Someone stole my idea for a movie. What can I do?

Probably not much because copyright doesn't protect ideas. This is known as the idea-expression dichotomy in copyright law. Basically, copyright law protects the expression of the idea, and not the idea itself. This is because the government aims to give an incentive to put all these fantastic ideas to paper. 

Still, you’re probably incensed.

First, evaluate if your idea was stolen. Maybe you think your idea was unique, but chances are that someone can come up with a similar concept. Hollywood has much less risky ways to do business than stealing ideas that could put their studios as risk for million-dollar legal verdicts. The clear consensus is that, economically, it only makes sense for the major studios to pay for people's ideas rather than steal them. 

Even if it was stolen, you would have to prove it by showing two things (1) that your work is copyrighted and (2) that someone actually stole the work. The first requirement is usually shown by a registered copyright; if that is the case, then you’re making a claim for the expression of your idea being stolen, not the idea itself. To prove the second one is far more complex. Proving infringement requires showing that the two works are remarkably similar and that the infringing party had access to your work. The alleged offender can offer up defenses such as fair use, lack of access to your work, or that they came up with the work all on their own. 

If you think you can prove all that, you may think it’s high time to pursue your lawsuit. But wait, the major studios have a policy of not settling to take a stand against these cases, which they tend to see as frivolous lawsuits. Because they won’t settle, these kinds of cases will most likely end up in a courtroom and must be decided by a jury. You think this all sounds great but, what it actually means is that the case will be expensive for you.

The Law Offices of Jonas M. Grant, A.P.C., recommends, in lieu of fighting a potentially uphill battle in court, you may just want to just rework what you have into something distinct from the “offending” work, or moving on to a different project in if your project has somehow been negated by this other work.

Always look out for yourself and register your copyrighted work before you shop around the script to studios. When you sit down for an interview with a studio or producer, let them know that you deem the topic discussed to be of confidential nature and that you have already registered your film treatment. 


If you’re an inspiring filmmaker and have any more questions on how to successfully protect your work, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.

Find additional articles by

Related Types of Content: