Unsurprisingly, people can be rather gung-ho about intellectual property and licensing, until it comes to discussing contracts. At which point they usually get terribly worried, and demand everything they think they can get away with. Which in some cases is fair enough – companies in particular have an obligation to their shareholders to avoid being goofy if they can, and accidentally letting competitors use stuff that you could have owned usually counts as ‘goofy.’

But there’s another way of looking at it all, particularly when the product of the project is less tangible than hard cash: that one should assess the IP requirements and objectives of the project. Then, rather than issuing the usual contractual boilerplate, one can write a contract that best meets those goals.

In TV I most often encountered IP absurdities thus:

  1. We’re discussing whether to use an idea we’ve seen in a book or on a website in a show. Somebody senior (usually the Executive Producer) asserts that ‘there’s no copyright on ideas’ and that we really shouldn’t worry. Indeed, it is the execution of the idea that’s copyrighted, not the idea itself. But then:
  2. Subsequently, said idea appears in another TV show or in a book or on a website. At which point somebody senior (usually said Executive Producer) froths at the mouth about how we should nail them for copying our stuff.

Most recently, I copped some flack because one of the series I made last year, Scrap It!, uses several item ideas from How2 and particularly from The Big Bang. None are direct copies, but it’s certainly recycling, and somebody involved in my earlier shows clearly didn’t like me… er… plagiarising myself. Well, tough. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Cheerfully.

And right now, my concern for ‘appropriate’ (rather than ‘blanket’) rights is causing problems with another contract. But you see… I’ve already written hundreds of experiments for TV shows, often more than once, and I have to be careful not to look at my own scripts while I’m doing so to avoid infringing copyright from earlier versions of the same experiment. If I’m going to rewrite it all again for a website, I really really want to do it a bit more cleverly this time around. So I don’t have to do it yet again.

Is that so wrong?

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