After the delights of its tussle over video games and what fiction is appropriate for children, I’m hoping that the Supreme Court will take a case that NBCUniversal has recently appealed to it, regarding idea-stealing in Hollywood if only so I can read the decision. But there are, of course, implications beyond my simple enjoyment As Eriq Gardner explains:
What makes the Ghost Hunters case possibly different is that the claims may go beyond straight copyright infringement with the easier-to-prove allegation that NBCU breached an implied contract. In essence, that would mean that when a screenplay is submitted and accepted for review, as is alleged here, there’s an expectation that if the material is later used, the writer will get something. We say possibly because that’s what’s subject to dispute. Is a stolen idea allegation a contract breach or a disguised copyright infringement claim? If it’s the latter, then federal copyright law usurps state contract law and aggrieved writers are out of luck. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has something called the “extra element” test to sniff out the difference. In the Ghost Hunters case, the appeals circuit overturned a prior decision by saying there doesn’t need to be an explicit promise of payment; Even an implied promise of partnership could qualify as an “extra element” transforming a copyright claim into a contract claim.
So, for the Hollywood writers in the audience (and lawyers, too), this is what I’m curious about. If the Supreme Court sides with Larry Montz and Daena Smoller, the people who claim their idea for a paranormal investigator show was stolen by SyFy, what does it do for the studios’ processes? Does this mean that more new writers with good ideas will get in the door? Require more original story ideas in-house? Lead to new and clearer contract terms? Create a low-value market for ideas that haven’t been turned into actual shows but that studios will want to lock up ownership of? Nothing? I’m curious.