Can You Copyright a Film Treatment

Can You Copyright a Film Treatment?

As a filmmaker, you’ve likely encountered plenty of situations in which you sought rights to use copyrighted works such as music or the written work of an author. Copyright law protects these and other works to prevent others from using or otherwise recreating the works without explicit permission. In fact, copyright law protects your script, characters, and various other critical elements of your intellectual property, but can you copyright a film treatment?

If you’ve not fully written your script yet, but you have documented a treatment, you might be wondering if you can copyright it before you share it with others in the industry or as part of a script pitch.

When to Copyright a Film Treatment

It’s very important for you to understand that a film treatment can be copyrighted. But your ideas when they’re just a bunch of random thoughts in your mind or even on paper, cannot.

Thus, if you’ve got a true idea for a film, that is complete with a plan for characters and a storyline. It’s best to get that idea fully outlined. In the form of either a treatment or a thorough script outline that can then be copyrighted for your protection. 

Knowing when to copyright a film treatment is important. Because without the protections of a copyright you could find yourself in a losing battle as you attempt to stake a claim to an idea later on.

That someone else decides to move forward with and to seek protection for. At the same time, applying for a copyright too soon, or when a copyright just isn’t necessary, could be costly. 

Other Questions to Consider

So, when we look at answering the common question, “Can you copyright a film treatment”? It’s more important for us to not only answer that. But also to answer the question, “When should a film treatment be copyrighted?”

If you’re just sharing your treatment with your closest friends, you shouldn’t need a copyright. If you do, you also might want to consider some new friends along with it!

However, if you’re sharing your film treatment with others in the industry. Particularly if you’re going to use the film treatment for a script pitch or for similar purposes.

Then you’re going to want to apply for copyright protection before you share it with anyone else. Doing so will ensure that your work is protected and that you’ve managed to stake a claim to it.

When Can You Copyright a Film Treatment?

A film treatment can be copyrighted as long as it is a full concept or idea, with characters and sufficient detail which is in written form. The US Copyright Act does not protect mere ideas or concepts for a film.

So if you want the protection of a copyright, you’re going to have to take some time to actually write your idea down, flesh out the key characters and pertinent details of the story.

And formulate a full outline or treatment that can be submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. In order for them to grant you a copyright registration for your film treatment. 

The Takeaway

So, can you copyright a film treatment? Absolutely! In fact, as long as you have your film treatment in writing. And it includes the pertinent details of your film including characters, the basic plot, and a summary of important details that will be included in the story.

Then you can apply for a copyright to protect the prototype or proof of concept that you’ve created for your future screenplay or script.

Since your film treatment is like a short version of your script, it’s one of the simplest ways of executing your ideas into written documents. Which can be protected under U.S. Copyright Registration.  

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