We all drink from the same idea-well: The L Word weighs in on intellectual property
In last week’s epsiode of The L Word:
– Aspiring screenwriter Alice writes a preliminary film treatment for a murder mystery, and shows it to friend Jenny, an experienced writer, for feedback.
– Jenny thinks the story is trash, suggests Alice go into cartoon voiceover work instead.
– Jenny finalizes a screenplay of her own and sells it for half a million dollars (!) — using the same idea Alice pitched in her treatment.
– Drama ensues.
If you’re not familiar with Showtime’s The L Word, it’s about the the lives and loves of queer women in West Hollywood. Jenny’s character in particular is one everyone loves to hate. She’s lying, stealing, and conniving — no wonder she’s rumored to die by the end of this season… and Alice is building a good motivation for murdering her!
When confronted about stealing Alice’s idea and selling it for $500K, Jenny counters that this type of idea-“sharing” is typical of Hollywood writers:
Jenny: If my screenplay happens to bear some resemblance to something that you just jotted down, then it’s pure coincidence.
Alice: [So Hollywood is] where people steal their friend’s ideas and sell them off as their own?
Jenny: No. It’s something called the idea well, okay? There is a well. All of the writers drink from the same fountain. But it takes genius, talent, craftsmanship to take a kernel of an idea and turn it into — ta-da! — a sellable screenplay.
Alice: Jenny, you are so f***ing full of s***
Does Alice have legal recourse? Likely not — copyright protects expressions, not ideas. A film treatment is the concept for a screenplay, but is not the completed product. Jenny claims she’d been working on a screenplay for months — it’s not her fault that it bears passing resemblance to a treatment Alice scribbled out in one night. Jenny finalized her screenplay and brought it to market first, reaping the lucrative award.
Alice calls bullshit on Jenny’s “idea-well”, but hasn’t this happened to any of us with a great idea? We’ll think of something genius, google it, and find out others all over the world have had the same idea. It’s the person who moves from idea to execution first who wins.