Print

Print


Eric, in discussing adapting a work in the public domain, queried:
 
> Is there anything I could do to avoid this scenario; to protect myself
>  from other screenwriters/producers/studios in adapting the same book?
 
The short answer is:  Not a chance.  The longer answer is that there may be
ways, but I suspect you would find them so limited as to be essentially
useless.  Copyright does not protect ideas.  Rather, copyright protects the
expression of ideas in a particular manner.  The idea to make a film of, say,
The Tempest is hardly one protected by copyright, and you have no copyright
protection in it.
 
There might be some means of protecting yourself, but those means would exist
outside the law of copyright.  It might be possible, for example, to enter
into a contract with a production company, whereby they promise not to adapt
The Tempest (to extend the example) while you work on a screen adaptation.
 That contract, however, would certainly give you all the leverage of a wet
noodle wrapped around a boulder if another production company rushed out with
its adaptation of "The Tempest."
 
None of the foregoing should indicate that an adaptation is entirely devoid
of protection, however.  A filmed version is protected as a film (with no
claim to the dialogue or plot), and a loose adaptation ("Forbidden Planet,"
e.g.) will have even broader protection.
 
Incidentally, by "adaptation," I presume you mean a literal and largely
faithful remake of something as opposed to an homage or a more creative but
extended allusion.
 
I do hope that I've helped you out a bit.
 
Sincerely,
 
Phil (who is not, it bears mentioning, a lawyer)
 
_Post scriptum_:  You might be interested to note that two versions of
Ibsen's "A Doll's House" were filmed within a year of each other (in 1973).
 The same is true of "Romeo and Juliet," which made it to film as "Romeo +
Juliet" and "Tromeo and Juliet" within the space of a year.
 
----
Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite 
http://www.sa.ua.edu/screensite