Question For FilmTVLaw.com:
I have an awesome reality television pitch deck and want to start shopping it to networks and production companies. I filed a copyright already. Am I covered? Is there anything else I can do to protect my pitch deck?
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Congratulations on getting your television series pitch deck together. You can’t get your project made without getting the pitch deck in front of development executives, so active submissions are the key. However, a word of caution, the rules of the game in television are a lot different than film, and some independent producers end up losing control of projects if they are not careful. Please also see my Entertainment Lawyer Question and Answer Forum at www.filmtvlaw.com, for more in depth advice that I publish twice a month.
None of my clients’ intellectual property rights have ever been stolen, whether that involves film, television, music or high-tech projects. Even Emmy award-winning executive producers choose to submit projects to networks through our firm to protect the rights and avoid “unsolicited material” issues. We are never complacent and always working to make sure that our representation of projects not only connects them to studios, networks and production companies, but also protects the long-term value of the story and underlying rights.
Copyright is certainly important, and can serve as a first step, but it is really important to understand that certain important parts of any television series pitch deck are not protected by copyright law. For example, the underlying concept and idea of a television series is not protectable under US or International Copyright law. While that might not matter too much when a filmmaker is shopping a completed feature film or submitting a project to film festivals, it becomes important to television development. When it comes to reality television, the problem is especially acute, because a reality television series pitch will be mostly characterized as a concept rather than a tangible form of expression such as a screenplay or a pilot.
So, then there are several ways to protect the rights when copyright does not offer a solution. One of those ways is through contract law. Contract law can fill in when copyright does not protect the project. Especially in television production, everyone involved with the producer on the project must sign a contract dealing with the rights. Most projects are not stolen by networks and studios, but instead by hosts and former business partners involved in the early phases of development.
Contract law can also protect the producer when submitting the project for other parties to review the project. However, the producer needs to balance the desire to protect the work, with the ability to get other parties to review the materials. Film and television projects are collaborative works, and you need to bring a lot of people into a production to successfully launch the project.
Another issue to carefully consider are submission releases. Networks and studios may ask producers to sign submission releases, which essentially contractually specify that the producer will not later sue the television network for infringement by the television network. When an independent producer deals with platforms like Amazon and Netflix it is even worse, because often there are submission releases built into click licenses that the producer never even notices.
Typically, submission releases can be avoided by having our entertainment law firm represent your project. By submitting the project through a recognized entertainment law firm, the network or studio knows that a record has been made of what was submitted and when it was submitted, thereby protecting both sides in the case of any future dispute.
In addition, trademark can be a way to protect content in a film or television series that is not protected by copyright. However, trademark used in this way is far beyond the sort of service available through online filing services. Our firm specializes in using trademark law to extend the protection available for film and television projects.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex issues without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. Feel free to contact my office at www.filmtvlaw.com about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer