On Monday, I asked what the impact would be if the Supreme Court a) takes a case accusing SyFy of stealing an idea for a television show and b) rules that the network had implicitly created a contract between itself and the people pitching a show. Copyright lawyer Michael Salerno explains that it’ll likely lead to more specific contracts, rather than easier entry into the business for people who aren’t established but have original ideas:
The Court can’t allow for ideas to be copyrightable or a numebr of writers will just submit any number of rather generic scripts and then sue the pants off of networks that develop similar shows. Can you imagine a writer being able to have a copyright in an idea like “six friends live in New York and have their love lives intertwine”? There goes just about every 30-minute sitcom ever. If the writers win on a contract basis (which is MUCH more likely), studios will just create more specific contracts that state any screenplay submitted is either a) a work for hire whose copyright resides in the studio, or b) that the network reserves the right to develop a series based on the idea within the script without remuneration for the writers. Tough terms, to be sure, but that is what will likely happen.
And Rhys Boyd-Farrell suggests that among the things that could get included in such contracts is a requirement that disputes be settled by arbitrartion rather that the courts, something that’s been a significant trend in employment and contract law in any case.
Zack Stentz suggests that it could also bring about changes that, in addition to helping avoid idea-stealing claims, would be total catnip for nerdy television critics like yours truly:
I think if this brings about any changes, it will be to force the studios and networks to more carefully document their development process. I don’t know what the facts are in this case, but simultaneous creation does happen all the time. When we meet with producers or studios and they pitch us ideas, we’re always really careful to say “that sounds great, but unfortunately we’re already working on an idea like that and we don’t want to step on it.” If NBCU already had a paranormal investigator idea in the works, they should have documented it somewhere and told these people when they came to pitch them.
I may be a little burned out by origin stories for characters, but I do like a good origin story for a piece of art.