One of the dangers of writing a great story or coming up with a great idea is the fact that some nefarious types my want to steal it from you to claim as their own. Another is that you may submit it to a studio and they could pass on it, but try to keep you from pitching it elsewhere because it may be similar to an idea that they’re currently working on.
You might be surprised how many artists and writers are so focused on the work that they’re creating that they don’t take the necessary and easy steps that it takes to protect their intellectual property.
The easiest thing to do is to register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America. You don’t have to be a member of the WGA in order to register your script there, and the registration is good for four years, after which you can renew the registration. This is an effective way to protect yourself that will hold up in court if you find out that someone has stolen your idea. But you need to make sure that you renew after four years, because I have heard of writers allowing the registration to expire and then losing their idea and then having no recourse even though the script had been registered in the past.
The WGA has offices in Los Angeles (The Writer’s Guild of America, West) and New York (The Writer’s Guild of America, East) and either of them can accept your screenplay, teleplay or treatment.
You can also copyright your work as well, but that isn’t necessary if you register it with the WGA.
I know that this is obvious information to a lot of people, but it’s still important to be reminded of it. A writer I know recently lost an idea because he pitched it to someone he thought he could trust, and he lost the idea. It wasn’t registered with the WGA, and now it’s going to be very difficult for him to get the idea back. His path would have been a lot easier, had he simply registered the script before he pitched it.
So be careful out there and always protect yourself.