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Really? Does everyone sign these and send their entire script away? When you sell your car, you don't sign a release for the guy driving it, that if your car ends up stolen and he happens to be driving one that looks just like it with the vin number scratched off that you wont sue him. When you sell your house you don't sign something for every looker that if after work the next day your stuff is on the lawn and they are moved in that you wont sue them...they may have been looking before! What is this? I am not afraid to send my script to anyone without this, it feels safer. Its almost like I am okaying them to steal it when I sign it. But, I am an idiot more often times than not. So if you all tell me wholeheartedly you sign these ritually and I have nothing to fear - Fine! I will and won't say another word about it.
No, I doubt you're ever 100% safe.....but I've signed quite a few "boilerplate" type releases when I've submitted requested material. That said, all of my scripts are both registered with the Writer's Guild and the U.S. Copyright Office. I suspect most on this board have signed releases when submitting material.
I've signed many too. Have someone look them over if you can (my wife's a lawyer) or read them yourself at least - but most are pretty standard. If you have an agent or manager, you don't have to sign them. Otherwise, you're kind of stuck. You should copyright too and keep track of where you send stuff, but yeah, you're always at risk and there's not much you can do about it. I met with a friend today who told me about two scripts he pitched, and then later got made with exact scenes from his pitch. Any recourse? Nope.
All you can do is research the company, and if they're reputable, go ahead and sign.
I've worked in a big name production company and I've glanced at the queries and submissions. So many ideas are the same. "An over-the-hill ________ has to come out of retirement to _________, but he ends up competing against his old nemesis _________." Ugh. That's a pretty standard logline that people consider high-concept, but think of how many people have filled that first blank with something random, like oh, "Olympic Curler." I'm willing to bet that there are over 50 scripts about an over-the-hill curler.
That production company was forced to deny all unsolicited submissions because if they make a movie about a retired curler, and someone at sometime submitted a script about a retired curler, there's a lawsuit and lawyer's fees.
If they steal your entire script you can still sue. A release doesn't give them that right. If they take your idea and the end result is nothing like your script then you're probably sol.
I'm not in the business but it seems to me that it's much easier for any legit production company to just pay a few thousand to option rather then spend huge amounts in a lawsuit. In these parts on the news they just reported that a lawsuit has been filed against the Hurting Locker, which is up for an Oscar. Apparently, the screenwriter interviewed a solder as background for the script. The soldier is now claiming that the movie was totally based on him. He's hired a very famous lawyer and filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit. So this is a serious suit. It's going to cost them a lot of money to defend it, so they have a real headache now.
Correction the Hurt Locker
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