Saturday, August 06, 2011


As long as I've been doing this, I've gotten complaints from members who tell me about some company or other stealing their ideas.

Just last night at the Peregoy show, an animation artist was griping about showing his project to an animation company, and then having the company announce a project quite similar to his. We had a short conversation about it, which went like this:

Artist: [Company X] looked at my story and artwork, and now they've got a project with the same title.

Me: Not good.

Artist: You're telling me. I signed a release.

Me: Oh. Well, that makes sense. They wouldn't look at it if you didn't. You've got no case ...

And so on and so forth. But he probably doesn't have a case anyway. Studios know how to protect themselves, and always have, back to the days of Birth of a Nation. I cite as evidence this, and, as of a few days ago, this:

A federal judge has sided with the Walt Disney Company and Pixar, finding that the studios did not steal the ideas for their hit films “Cars” and “Cars 2” from British screenwriter Jake Mandeville-Anthony.

Mandeville-Anthony claimed last spring that he had submitted a script with character art to the studio in the mid-'90s that closely resembled the anthropomorphic autos in the two animated films. At the time, he sought an injunction to prevent the June release of “Cars 2.”

Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank disagreed, dismissing the complaint. ...

It's always good to remember that corporations generally get the pole position on Planet Earth, and especially here in Freedom's Land.


Mark Mayerson said...

People with ideas should develop the ideas themselves in public. Certainly, animation is too labor-intensive to do on your own, but a children's book, comic strip or even a blog with designs and a summary will allow someone to establish copyright and make it harder for anyone to lift the material.

Those people who create work that attracts an audience will have more leverage in the event the work attracts attention from a studio. And if work attracts an audience, it is possible to monetize that audience and derive income from it.

David Lyman said...

So my takeaway from this blog post is: "don't pitch ideas to the studios, they"ll steal them, and there is nothing you can do about it".
Is that what your saying Steve?
I really wish my union was way more helpful.

Anonymous said...

What a loser comment, David. Should 'your union' spend its efforts trying to change the nation's copyright laws? Should it lead the fight for judicial reform? Should it take on Hollywood's legal establishment? Is that what you mean by 'more helpful?' Me, I'd prefer my union not tilt at windmills and waste time/energy/money on fights we won't win, and which have NOTHING to do with the core mission of TAG.

Steve is publicizing something that people need to know (and something that is no surprise to the majority of union members). Should he pretend it's otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Enough with the Animation Nation attitude that a union that doesn't solve every single problem an animator might face is some kind of failure.

If a studio rips off your ideas, it something your attorney or your agent should be dealing with. If you're pitching without either of those, you're an amateur, and you're SOL.

Anonymous said...

Intellectual property is the name of the game, and money always holds all the cards. That's just the way of the world. You can hem and haw all you want, but it's all about class, not ideas. The guy with the idea AND the class, ie - the lawyers and cash to back it up - always wins. And, you always have to ask yourself the question when creating original work - maybe it wasn't so original if ten other people already had the same one. That is just how the crowd works. You may think your idea is original to you, but often times many, many people are pitching pretty much the same thing, EVEN with the same title - ask any development exec. What makes the difference is if you have the resume, the class, and the resources in your corner. It sucks, but that is just the truth.

And no, IATSE hardly has either the class or the cash to back artists up in this regard.

Anonymous said...

And no, IATSE hardly has either the class or the cash to back artists up in this regard.

I'm not sure when this became an IATSE issue. The TAG contract doesn't have any language about people pitching their ideas for a TV series or a feature films. It's like being angry that an apple isn't an orange.

Next thing people will be pissing on TAG because Hulett didn't solve the debt crisis.

Anonymous said...
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Steven Kaplan said...

Removed the above comment for straying too far from the topic.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Steven Kaplan said...

The above mention of a another animation blog has started a string a comments that are straying away from the topic. I'm leaving the original mention in the hopes that we steer the conversation towards what TAG can do vs. what TAG should do.

Anonymous said...

Mark had the right idea. Plus Hollywood isn't in the business of stealing ideas, contrary to urban legend. It's cheaper for them to option an idea than to risk a case. More than likely the studio already had something similar in the works, and any release you sign states that is a possibilty. you just have to prove that they saw yours prior to developing theirs. Plus ideas can't be protected, just actual works.

Steve Hulett said...

I really wish my union was way more helpful.

Your union wishes you would show up at the occasional union meeting.

C.M.B. said...

Why would a studio have someone pitch an idea, only to steal it anyway? If you conceived something that a studio likes, wouldn't the studio want to work with you?

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if Steve could fix the debt crisis..or arbitrate copyright disputes but he's already got a full time job that he does very well.
In regards to pitching ideas to studios, you should do your homework. See an attorney for advice. Learn about copyright protection. Create something tangible that exists on paper video or online. File the correct forms with the copyright office. Send yourself a copy of the property via certified mail return receipt requested and don't open the sealed envelope.
Legitimate studios are not out to steal ideas. But you should at least create an animatic with all your characters & their situation, etc before you even think of presenting it to a studio. Get your friends together to do voices, animate it yourself with Flash or ToonBoom.

Anonymous said...

As anyone who has worked in development will tell you, it is amazing how often different people, with no apparent connection, will come up with very similar ideas. The people who get the most upset about this are usually the ones who only have a single idea, and those people put all their eggs in that one basket. People who are really creative, and who have a knack for generating original ideas, are usually pitching multiple ideas, and these are the people studios want to work with.

And as others have mentioned, the premise and basic characters aren't what make these things valuable. It's all in the execution. If you can't fully develop your idea and characters in novel, entertaining ways, then it's just another idea, and has very little value.

Anonymous said...

^ Excellent comment.

Unknown said...

@Mark Mayerson: I wish all that were true. There are too many cases where judges have sided with the company, prior art be damned. The victor is the one with the better-paid legal team.

@C.M.B.: Because if they can make money from your idea WITHOUT having to pay you, so much the better for them.

@Anonymous 8/7 6:12: That whole thing about sending your property to yourself via certified mail and leaving it unopened is bull. No lawyer worth more than a nickel will submit that as evidence of prior art, because no judge will accept it as evidence of prior art. You can file that suggestion under "urban myths of the creative world."

Steve Hulett said...

This is a topic that will be around forever. Raymond Chandler wrote in 1948:

... The law recognizes no plagiarism except that of basic plots. It is far behind the times in its concept of these things. My ideas have been plagiarized in Hollywood and I have been accused of plagiarism myself, by a guy who said "The Blue Dahlia" was lifted from an original of his. Luckily Paramount was in a position to show that his story never left the story department.

Unconscious plagiarism is widespread and inevitable. Throughout the play "The Iceman Cometh" O'Neill uses the expression "the big sleep" as a synonym for death. He is apparently under the impression that this is a current underworld or half-world usage, whereas it is a pure invention on my part. If am remembered long enough, I shall probably be accused of stealing the phrase from O'Neill ...

Mike said...

The Writers Guild has a registry which the writers use to establish a date they created their work. It isn't quite the same as a copyright but it covers unpublished work. You can even register a premise, doesn't have to be a whole script.
Something the Animation Guild might consider. Don't know what it costs to run, but the fee to register is pretty modest. In this age of digital scanning, would take much room to store a few million scans.

Steve Hulett said...

You don't have to be a Writers Guild member to use the WG's registry.

Anonymous said...

There are too many cases where judges have sided with the company, prior art be damned. The victor is the one with the better-paid legal team.

I'd be interested in seeing some specific examples when the individual creator had a strong case. In some of the publicized cases I've seen (like the Scrat case, and the Kung Fu Panda case) the prior art was pathetically crude and completely undeveloped.

C.M.B. said...


@C.M.B.: Because if they can make money from your idea WITHOUT having to pay you, so much the better for them.

They have to pay someone to run the show. If not you the creator then it would be someone else. I just don't see the benefit a studio gets out of stealing a pitch.

Tim said...

For a couple of precedents, Art Buchwald successfully sued Paramount over "Coming to America", stating that he had submitted the idea to them. So ther eis at least one case of an author legitimately getting his due.
On the other side, Pixar had two lawsuits over "Monsters, Inc". The first was an author who had submitted a children's book titled "There's a Boy in My Closet" to Chronicle Books (who also publishes all the Pixar making of books). The suit almost delayed the release of the film. Shortly afterward another artist alleged that the Mike & Sully designs were his and that he had submitted them to various studios as early as 1998. Neither of these plaintiffs won. (These are covered pretty well in the book "The Pixar Touch" by David Price)

The major difference in these cases is that Mr. Buchwald had a documented chain of events surrounding his submission. (And he could afford good lawyers)

jerrybrice said...

I was an expert witness in the Stanley Mouse Miller case versus Pixar/Disney, and we made them settle out of court because we found irrefutable evidence that impropriety had occured.
Go back and read 'The Pixar Touch" and you will see it clearly states that they settled.
Now, the court case had been under seal, so how David Price got hold of my deposition and report that swayed the court in OUR favor, is a mystery to me, but if you assume that we lost, I have the WHOLE CASE and the summary judgement in Stanley Mouse Miller's favor.
i only say this because Stanley's reputation was upheld in court, and it is beyond my comprehension why the creative community is reading into the settlement as a loss for Mr. Miller.
i say to you, if any case is settled for over a million dollars, and licensing agreements have been signed, then that is an obvious win for the creator,not the corporation.
I personally have no ill will to anyone at either companies that lost, but business id business.
Spin it however it suits you, but the fact remins that we came out on the positive side of that case, settled in 06, not the corporation.
Sometimes the little guy does win...and I maintain possession of the truth.You all would be shocked to find out what goes on behind closed doors.

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