A guest post from Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee:
Many writers submit unsolicited storylines to television companies in the hope of getting work. It's a time honoured tradition, but a disquieting practice recently has sprung up. Writers are regularly receiving replies along the lines of, “What a wonderful storyline! We love it. But we just want you to know, in an amazing co-inky dinky, that our producer/ researcher/ Peruvian intern came up with almost an identical storyline, so we won’t be able to use yours.”
Allow me to translate: “Yes your story was good; so good in fact, we’re going to nick it and not pay for it.”
This appropriation of storylines by production personnel is being noticed all over the industry. A well-known agent observed, “They tell the lie before they steal the story.”
Of course certain ideas are in the ether and very much a part of our zeitgeist. Some of us do have similar ideas at the same time. I for one still haven’t forgiven Richard Curtis for writing Blackadder, Four Weddings and A Funeral, and Notting Hill, all of which were on the tip of my pen. But the number of times this is happening to writers now is getting worrying.
If you’ve received one of these letters or e-mails lately, we’d like to see it. Could you please alert the Guild office: email@example.com
The rule is if someone likes your original storyline enough to use it, he/she must pay for it.
The Guild be launching our new Television Good Practice Guide shortly. But here’s a preview:
“Unsolicited storylines come free. So, too, do brief outlines which put down on paper the gist of an idea in which you have expressed an interest. If, after discussion, you ask a writer to prepare a full storyline to test the development of an idea, this is a storyline commission and you are bound by Writers’ Guild Agreements to pay for it.”
And hold the “coincidences.”