The 10 Rules Of Copyright For Writers

10 rules of copyrightI caught up with founder partner of Collab Writers and founder of the Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards, Elliot Grove. We met at The Library Club in central London, where Collab Writers will be hosting a monthly networking event to encourage creative collaboration.

***Please note: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice and is presented for educational purposes only based upon the experience of Elliot Grove. Please consult a lawyer if you require legal advice.

Jennie Griffiths: Elliot, with your experience of scripts and movie making – please do share your experience of copyright and explain it to the rookie writer / filmmaker

Elliot Grove: I can try!

Copyright law around the world is based on a simple premise- surrounding the planet earth there is a cloud of ideas. Any two people at the same time can pull down the same idea and download it from the universe. And, ideas are free.

What is copyrightable is the expression of the idea, be it as a poem, sculpture, libretto, novel or script. Sometimes, the difference between what is an expression of an idea and what is an idea can become complicated. Some lawyers make a living from this.

Basically, two writers can come up with the same storyline for a novel, or movie for that matter. They write two very different manuscripts, but the storyline idea (which cannot be copyright protected) cannot be disputed.

JG: Can’t writers just put the ‘©’ symbol alongside their work to confirm ownership?

EG: Many writers and artists labour under the misconception that they must fill out an official form, and write the letter ‘©’ to assert their claim for ownership of the copyright. In fact, all countries recognize that the artist owns copyright from the moment it is created.

The difficulty arises in proving ownership when it is disputed.

JG: So how can writers protect their ideas?

EG: Well, Rule #1 is that you cannot copyright or protect an idea.

This is the whole point of copyright law.  Your first task after coming up with a great idea for a movie is to write as detailed an account of your idea as possible. Generally, a page or two is not sufficient to distinguish your ideas from your competitors. Three pages are better, but I recommend ten. After all, you have an idea for a movie that will end up being ninety to a hundred- and-twenty pages long. Surely you can outline the key points in ten pages.

JG: Who owns the copyright of your manuscript / script?

EG: Rule #2 – You own the copyright of your script or treatment the moment it is created. Suppose you are in your ivory tower, typing your hundred-page screenplay. You are on a complete roll, when suddenly, near the bottom of page ninety-nine you hear the two most dreaded words a screenwriter will ever hear bouncing up the walls of your ivory tower – ‘Dinner’s ready!’

You race down for dinner, storm through your food, and race back to your typewriter only to discover that an erstwhile copyright thief has taken the ninety-nine page manuscript from you, and typed a new page hundred and is now claiming ownership of the script.

You created the screenplay (minus page hundred) and you own the copyright. The only way that you lose the copyright is by assigning the title of the screenplay to someone else, presumably for a wad of cash. The difficulty is in proving that you own the copyright.

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JG: So, how do you prove ownership? Is this Rule #3?

EG: Well screenwriters can apply to have their script registered upon completion, in a similar way that parents apply for a birth certificate for their newborns. It is called Certificate of Registration, and is available from the Writers Guild of America at

At the time of writing, the fee is a modest $20.00. Send a copy of the final version of the screenplay. For your money, you will receive a letter with the date your script was received along with a serial number (to assist in file retrieval). Keep this number confidential.

Other writers register their scripts or manuscripts with the United States Copyright Office. You can check the current fees from or call +1 202 707 3000.

In the UK, other art organizations, the trade union BECTU and also Raindance provide the service free to its members. And for a limited time this service is free to Collab Writers Founder Members.

Once you’ve registered,

you can promote and market your manuscript to your heart’s content knowing that you are able to prove the date of creation.

JG – So that’s all there is to it?

EG: Not so fast JG! Proof of ownership is Rule #4.

There’s an additional piece of administrative detail, which you must attend to in order to back up the birth certificate of your creation. Should you ever get into a dispute with another writer, or with a producer who you suspect of using your script with permission, you need to prove that you are the one who registered the screenplay.

It’s a little like a property transaction, proving the chain of title, where your solicitor will look at the deeds of the house you are buying and trace all the previous owners back in time to make sure that the title has no unpaid mortgages, liens for city taxes and so on. Screenplays are classed as intellectual property.

Similarly, screenwriters also need to prove chain of title, although it is less formal than in property dealing. You have to keep a formal record of everyone you speak to about your screenplay.

JG: This is starting to sound quite complicated. When we sat down, you said there were Ten rules?

EG: ‘Fraid so – and Rule #5 I call ‘the Ten Thousand Monkeys’

American scientists proved the theory of ‘isn’t it amazing about the common currency of ideas in circulation; with an experiment in the South Pacific. There they found six islands, on which lived a unique species of monkey, totalling ten thousand. One fifth of the island grew sweet potatoes; a very good food for monkeys – but none of the monkeys ate sweet potatoes. Approximately six hundred monkeys lived on the sixth island- the one without sweet potatoes.

The scientists introduced sweet potatoes, trained few monkeys to dig up the potatoes, take them to the ocean and wash them, and then eat them.

A very strange thing happened when approximately a hundred of the six hundred monkeys were digging up the sweet potatoes, taking them to the ocean and washing then and eating them. Suddenly, the monkeys on the other islands started to dig up sweet potatoes, take them to the ocean to wash them and eat them.

Isn’t it amazing about the common currency of ideas in circulation?

When I moved to London from Toronto in 1986, I was used to being a Lone Ranger. In Toronto, if I had an idea for literally anything, I would be isolated by all my acquaintances (I didn’t really have ‘friends’) because they thought me, with my crazy ideas, quite weird.

But when I moved to London, not fully appreciating the difference in size, and the broad depth of this cosmopolitan and multi-cultural city, I suddenly felt at one with a huge number of unseen friends. And whenever I have an idea I would read about it in the newspaper the very next day – pretty scary for a writer.

Remember that whatever your idea for a movie is, I can guarantee you that at least a dozen other people in the world right now have exactly the same idea. The only difference is that you are reading this page and attempting to get it out onto paper. Remember that all ideas are basically sound. What makes an ordinary idea exciting is the way you bend, reshape and state the idea. The expression of the idea is yours, and yours alone. The bolder and fresher you can be, the more valuable your idea will be in the market place.

JG: This is fascinating stuff Elliot. So, subject to the caveat of getting legal advice…if writers follow these rules it means their ideas and intellectual property is safe, right?

EG: Not exactly….Rule #6 Jennie is ‘Misfortune’

For example: What if you have a great idea for a movie, register it for copyright, and voilà – someone else is already making the movie? What would you do? Sue them? Give up writing?

Misfortune is a weird and dangerous thing. Consider this true story of a writing friend of mine in London. She came up with a concept for a television show based on the true-life experiences of people living alone, but sharing accommodation. In order to secure stories, she placed ads in London’s famous Time Out magazine advertising for people to write in with their stories.

She prepared a questionnaire for potential participants, which she returned to each person who responded to the ad. This process took place over a long period of time. Just as she was approaching her goal of getting the right mix of people for her series of shows, she was summoned to of a local magazine and saw an ad that was worded identically to hers.

She responded and received a questionnaire exactly like the one she had prepared in London, some eighteen months earlier. Back in London, she conferred with an entertainment attorney, another good friend of mine. He told her that she had a potential case for copyright infringement, which he was willing to pursue for nothing, as a favour. In those days, hard costs would have been $5,000 to $10,000. As she didn’t happen to have that much cash lying around for a speculative enterprise such as this, he advised her to pass.

Even if she won her case she would still have had to prove that she had suffered financial damages. As it was difficult to see how a classified ad in the States could possibly infringe on a television show destined for the United Kingdom, she decided to let it go. A few months later, the trades announced the production start of a movie I cannot name for legal reasons.

My friend had a great attitude to this misfortune. She shrugged her shoulders and simply said that it proved that her ideas were commercially viable, and she moved on to the next project.

JG: Gosh, just goes to show how careful you need to be…can you tell us something about waiver letters and submission releases. Could we make this Rule #7?

EG: We sure can – I was wondering how we could get to that. Your questions are the perfect example of how to lead an interview!

Sometimes when you submit a script to a production company, they will send your script back with a letter that they want you to sign. The letter basically states that they want you to cast aside your right to sue them for copyright infringement if they ever make a film resembling in any way your screenplay.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the letter don’t sign it. The film company will not read your script. Go find someone else to make your movie. Of course, I believe that astute writers understand that these waivers are designed by film companies, not to make it easier to plunder screenplays, but to protect them from dishonest screenwriters. Either way you look at it, don’t do anything unless you feel comfortable.

JG: Can we talk about Non-disclosure agreements? How do they work in the film industry?

EG: Sure, let’s make this Rule # 8 then? I’m not sure if I can make it to 10 – but I’ll try!
Pitching ideas blind to a film company can be considered a form of an open invitation for them to take your ideas. You could get them to sign a Non-disclosure agreement. It’s a binding contract where each party agrees not to discuss their ideas with anyone else unless certain pre-agreed conditions are met.

JG: I’ve recently watched Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Mule’ based on a newspaper article of a true crime. How might Clint have gone about acquiring the rights to a such a story and how can writers do this?

EG: Great example, this can be Rule #9 – Writers will often become aware of a real-life story through a newspaper account or television news piece. In order to acquire the screenplay rights to a person’s true-life story, you need to approach the individual directly and secure their written permission to base a screenplay on their life.

Probably the easiest way to contact this person is through the journalist who originally created the story. Through this contact, approach the individual directly, and see if you can persuade them to allow you to write the story of their life.

There are certain laws governing the stories of someone who has been convicted of a crime. Most countries will not allow a prisoner to profit from any story about their crime, through the American ‘Son of Sam’ laws or similar. If you are contacting a prisoner, make sure you engage the service of an entertainment attorney who can offer expert advice.

JG: Sounds like fascinating but choppy waters to navigate. Well done Elliot! But that’s Rule #9! What’s your Rule #10!

EG: I’ll have to make Rule #10 an urban myth as I’m running out of copyright rules!
Putting your script into a self-addressed registered mail envelop to yourself simply doesn’t cut it. You need to give your script to a registered third party.

JG: This has been immensely helpful Elliot, thanks. Any final words of copyright caution from experience?

Take your time to understand copyright. If you want to know more Raindance do run a course on it from time to time led by a specialist lawyer – so, do look out for that.

Never tell anyone an idea until you have written it down as completely as possible and registered it.

Be professional. Keep track, in writing, of everyone you have discussed your manuscript with.

If you require permission to tell someone’s story, be absolutely certain that you have the necessary permission before you start writing. And, if needs be, seek legal advice.

If you want to meet other writers and collaborate, check out the Collab Writers Networking Drinks at The Library in London’s Theatre Land



Consequences – a game of two halves….

Consequences Parlour GAme

‘Consequences’ started life as a Victorian Parlour game with a picture variation in France beguilingly called ‘Exquisite Corpse.’ The game was based on two or more people telling a story following a set structure. One person would write a sentence on a piece of paper and fold the paper over hiding what they had written. They would pass it to the next person who would do the same and pass it on, with a view to building up a narrative worthy of any good story – with a beginning, a middle and an end. Then, the story would be read out loud to entertain. This was before the TV came along….

Keen to bring the game back into fashion, Jennie Griffiths and I have created our own unique variation of the game, breaking the rules (but not the ethos) of the original. I wrote a paragraph, Jennie replied, and we continued the back and forth. We wrote about murderous twins, Sylvie and Betty, each of us writing the dialogue and thoughts of one of the twins and bringing in the other characters too. The resulting novel, aptly named ‘Consequences’ has twists and turns as the twins try to thwart one another on their murderous paths. In the same way that Jennie and I are different (as everyone is) the juxtaposition between Betty and Sylvie of self and other, is a key motif of the novel. Seeing what the other had written from a different perspective, sparked our mutual creativity.

We wrote the novel on the go, using our phones much of the time on our commutes to work. Jennie would email me her latest ‘reaction’ to what I had written and vice versa. we called our respective missives ‘instalments’.

We are, of course, not the first writers to collaborate and co-create. What we loved about writing together from the get go was the complete absence of writer’s block. And, the fact that we both managed to get to the point that we have a completed work, one that is being edited now. During the last few years, we have spoken to many people who have written, or half-written a book. Or people want to start one but aren’t sure where or how to start. If I hadn’t met Jennie, I don’t think I would ever have completed a novel; my unfinished book with two titles is still in a folder under the bed gathering dust.

As we came to the end of our first draft of ‘Consequences’, we started writing a second book together called ‘Swipe’ where the twins make an appearance but are not the main players. Then, Jennie had an idea for another novel, a kind of ‘watching the watcher’ novel called ‘#We’llBeTogether.’

From having a dearth of words on a page to having one completed book with an editor and two more on the go, means that we can finally call ourselves the writers we’ve always aspired to be.

Our collaboration has led us to set up Collab Writers, to help anyone who wants to write (amongst other creative pursuits) to meet others to join forces with. We know how collaborating helped us to get words on a page and we want to help get you get started, overcome writer’s block, motivate and help increase output. Collab Writers plans to be this and more – we will also be holding events and competitions to encourage writers to practice their art. Collab Writers will also publish the best works.

Anyone can play Consequences…come and join Collab Writers and give it a go…
We launched Collab Writers in the mid-winter of 2018. Our inaugural event was attended by nearly 100 people. Most played Consequences and wrote some rather brilliant one page stories through collaboration. Many had never ‘written’ stories before.

We have a series of networking events scheduled in London to continue the tradition. We also plan to run pop-ups with a mix of networking, education and creation and creative retreats.
Join us at The Library Here

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Could there ever be a better deal for a tenner? Founder members enjoy benefits and discounts with all of the partners we are working with.


Still looking for something new in 2019? ‘Collaboration’ may be what you need


After one sleep on December 31 we moved seamlessly into a bright new year. On January 1 we were expected to be ‘new’ – full of resolutions and aims for the year ahead. Despite the fireworks and the shiny new diary, it was the same ‘you’ that woke up on January 1st. If you’re a writer, you faced the same blank page. If you’ve yet to make real progress so far this year, read on….

Whilst I don’t slavishly follow the flock by taking up something new each year, a few years ago, my writing partner, Anjali Alford and I decided to set out our aims. Looking back, having achieved them, we’d like to encourage you to add one little word to your active vocabulary this year ‘collaborate.’

collaborate – co-operate
1. ‘collaborate’

When people collaborate on a project, they work together in order to produce something. For example, two writers can collaborate to produce a single piece of writing.

The Free Dictionary

Collaborate is a word that punches above its weight, and it requires action from you and someone else.

Do you wanna be a Recordbreaker?


I’ve had the 1980s Recordbreakers strapline ‘do you wanna be a record breaker?’ going round and round in my head. For anyone old enough to remember the TV series ‘Recordbreakers’ the strapline was a motivational call to action for folks to set their mind on a goal and try to be the best they could at it. And ultimately, win and break a record.

There are aspects of this that really resonate for all creators. We want to create, and we want folks to enjoy what we create, whether it’s a book, a film or some other creation. Do you want to break records? Maybe, maybe not. One thing for sure, in order to break records you have to actually motivate yourself sufficiently to create. As they say in the world of competitions, “you’ve gotta be in it to win it”.

And this is where Collab Writers comes in…..

Here are three ways you can collaborate:


You need to find someone to collaborate with.

This is where Collab Writers can help you. We will be holding pop ups worldwide in 2019 to hook you up with one another. Ultimately, we want to build an app to make the connection process easier. In the meantime, we’re going to have to be old school about it. We will host a matching creators version of speed dating for (no mating involved) at our pop ups that will let you connect with other creatives to see if you might be compatible for a potential collaboration.

Become a Founder Member if you want to attend our first matching creators pop up in 2019. We plan to let you know the first date and location next month.

Be open minded about who you collaborate with

At Collab Writers, Anjali and I have looked beyond the obvious writer-writer collaboration and are also collaborating with photographers, musicians, print artists and courtesy of Raindance, movie peeps.

Our first collaboration of 2019 is a limited edition notebook where we’ve collaborated with London print designer, Caroline Lowe. We are refining the notebooks this month and hope to have them out to you by the end of February.

Our previous blog will whet your appetite of the type of design you can expect to feast your eyes on. If you still want to pre-order these limited edition notebooks you can get your hands on them at our website here.


Limited Edition Collab Writers notebooks

Our first Collab Writers limited edition notebooks are in collaboration with London print designer, Caroline Lowe. Our first edition notebooks will be hand numbered and signed. Your notebook will be one of these two designs.



Many people have been amazed at how we’ve managed to collaborate on our writing? It’s this easy – you just need to hook up. Just do it. Sit down together or chat on FaceTime/Skype/What’s App about your ideas and brainstorm. Then comes the plan – make a skeleton of your story or your co-creation.

There is no way around the next stage, you’ve just got to get started. It’s not as hard as you think to get started when you’ve got someone to collaborate with. Two minds are better than one. Twice as many ideas are far more likely to result in words on a page if you are writers.


It’s through your collaboration that you will co-create. It’s not rocket science! It’s unavoidable and your creation will grow at twice the rate as if you were doing it yourself because you are sharing the creative process, there are two of you doing it.

A New Year and a New You!

Over to you…..and you…..and you

So, if you are going to do any kind of ‘new year, new you’ thinking, do yourself and others a favour and start thinking about your ideas for a collaborative project. If you know fellow creators, hook up and give it a go. We will be giving you more tips on how to collaborate – so watch this space. Why not join our mailing list?

Along the theme of Recordbreakers, Collaboration’s what you need.

Wishing you every success in your journeys to connect – collaborate and create in 2019. We hope you will join us to help us on your journey.


Become a founder member

Could there ever be a better deal for a tenner? Founder members enjoy benefits and discounts with all of the partners we are working with.


Collab with London print designer, Caroline Lowe

We are pleased to announce that London print designer Caroline Lowe has agreed to contribute an original print design for our notebooks.

Pattern designs

Tromp L’oeil devore Marks of a Bohemian Cyborg Landscape
Tromp L'oeil devore small Marks of a Bohemian small Cyborg landscape small

Dress designs

Robot Wiring Sequinned pinafore Orange Robot
Robot wiring small Sequinned pinafore small Orange robot small


About Designer Caroline Lowe

‘Maximalism for escapists’

Caroline is a talented printed textile designer of bespoke printed & custom- made fabric for fashion & accessories & fashion-led interiors. Caroline creates exuberant, extravagant and hedonistic themed prints featuring hand-drawn and digital patterns & placements to fire the senses.

Lights, camera & collaboration on ‘Consequences’

There’s a great line in a number of Hollywood movies where the big cheese says:

“Get your people to speak to my people…..”

Since the conception of Collab Writers, there has been a lot of this going on behind the scenes and we are doing it for ourselves, indie style. We are not waiting for the big cheeses to knock on our door.

It’s all about ‘collaboration’

We have had a little help from our friends. Our founder partner Elliot Grove and founder collaborator, Ali Mashayekhi have been working their magic to start the wheels in motion to take Consequences (the book – that you can pre-order here)  from page to screen.

When we told Ali about ‘Consequences’ back in September his eyes lit up as we described Sylvie and Betty and he promptly mentioned the Strain twins who he had worked with in Canada. Ali spoke to the twins, they loved the idea and prepared an audition tape (above). The rest, as they say, is history.

We loved the writing and the relationship of the protagonists. It wasn’t like anything we had read before. We were eager to know more…Katie and Karissa Strain

And, that eagerness led the twins to London for 24 hours last Thursday to meet us and discuss putting flesh on the bones of our murderous duo, Sylvie and Betty. On Thursday night, Collab Writers met Karissa and Katie Strain, two trailblazing, talented Canadian actors.

Next up – your collaborative works

Collab Writers’ dream of taking books to film is manifesting for ‘Consequences.’ Now that we’ve got things moving on our first collaborative work, we’ll be in a stronger position to help make this happen for you, Collab Writers. In the meantime, we are going to manifest seeing a billboard of:

“‘Consequences’ (the movie) coming soon to a cinema near you.” 

What is your work called? Have you thought about whether it will make a good short, feature length movie or TV series? It’s time to put your thinking caps on.

If you’ve yet to find your story, or, if you want to move it forward, it’s time to follow the Collab motto and:



The Birth Of Collab Writers

On 8th November 2018 Collab Writers, a new start up launched their collaborative creative community at The Century Club, Soho, London, England.

The launch saw creatives of all kinds networking and writing stories together. We played the old parlour game ‘Consequences’ by writing stories across a number of genres.

Where did the idea come from?

Co-founders Jennie Griffiths and Anjali Alford wrote a crime noir book together on their commutes.

I had the idea to reinvent the old Victorian parlour game, ‘Consequences’. Fortunately Jennie loves a challenge, and trusted my idea of us taking on two murderous protagonists. We decided to take one each and write from their perspective. We collaborated on our commutes and a year later we finished the first draft.
– Anjali Alford, Co-founder
[Anjali and Jennie’s collaborative work is currently with an editor in the States.]

After finishing their work, Jennie had the idea to build a community to encourage collaboration and disruption in the arts. They’ve also collaborated with Pippa Kay, a London photographer who’s photos of ‘The 7 Deadly Sins’ will feature in the book.

The idea of Collab Writers came to me in shavasana on a yoga retreat. When the class finished I ran to my room, grabbed a notebook and mind mapped the vision. At first it was a dream but the idea kept bugging me until we did something about it. Last week,  we launched to a room of 100 writers and other creatives.”
– Jennie Griffiths, Co-founder.

Who are Collab Writers?

We are writers by night with day jobs. We’re disrupting the traditional world of solo writing, editing and publishing by collaborating and doing it for ourselves and others. We’re also screenwriters. Our next collaborative mission, once our book is published is to turn our book into a film. Our Founder Partner who taught us the craft is Elliot Grove, London’s king of indie film and the Raindance Film Festival.

When Anj and Jen pitched the idea of Collab Writers to me, I got on board right away. Their passion and vision reminded me of when I started Raindance. I love the way they want to disrupt and help others do the same. Collaboration is the future!”
– Elliot Grove, Founder Partner.

As well as Elliot, we’re also filling a virtual ark of Founder Collaborators to help establish the community. Ali Mashayekhi of Landed Entertainment, a Canadian producer and director has already confirmed his collaboration on Collab Writers’ projects. Ali is bringing fellow actors along with him. We’ve also got poets, bloggers, photographers, musicians and illustrators. And, a PR representative!

On top of Founder Collaborators, we’re also open to Founder Members who can join via our Kickstarter campaign until 17 December 2018. There are also opportunities for Founder Patrons.

What’s Collab Writers all about?

It’s pretty simple – we collaborated in writing ‘Consequences’ together. We’re planning on publishing our work off one of Collab Writers’ publishing arms, Dark Art Books and we want you to collaborate to create so that we can get your work out there too!


“It’s our tagline. It’s an extremely simple concept of bringing people together to collaborate to create.”
– Jennie Griffiths, Co-Founder

Every stage of the creative process can present stumbling blocks and hurdles to overcome for writers, illustrators and other artists.

  1. First you have to get over writers block and actually finish something.
    This is where collaboration helps because it shares the pain.
  2. We plan to hold regular networking events to hook creatives up and by the middle of 2019 we want to design an app to help artists to collaborate to create on the go. (Commute2Create).
  3. As you can never have too much education, we will be holding training and pop-ups to help hone your skills and work on your craft.
  4. Once you’ve written your work, you have to find an editor. When there’s two of you collaborating, you can take it in turns to edit one another’s work. Professional editors will be part of the community to help you edit.
  5. As for publishing, this is where many writers give up. We will have two publishing arms – Dark Art Books and Light Work Books.
    One of our founder Collaborators, Shiva Sawyer, a former publisher will be guiding us through our debut publication of ‘Consequences.’

Last but not least, this is a community and we need your help to build it.

Our first goal is to get our collaborative work of fiction out there. Please pledge your support by pre-ordering a copy of our book and bringing our baby to life.

Whilst you’re there please do have a look at our other rewards, from limited edition Collab Writers notebooks to being the brains behind our future stories.

They say everyone’s got a book in them. What’s yours? 

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