Idea Submission and Theft

Idea submission and theft laws are another avenue to protect creative work. This area of law shares similarities to copyright law, but differs in substantial ways. Idea submission and theft laws protect the idea itself, whereas copyright law protects the expression of the idea. Importantly, whereas an idea’s creator can bring suit only against someone with whom he or she has a relationship or contract with (i.e. there is a legal obligation between both parties), a copyright infringement claim can be brought against anyone in the world who has access to the creator’s work. Though these distinctions become blurry when put into practice, idea submission and theft laws have its own set of elements to protect plaintiffs whose ideas do not reach the level of copyright protection.

The leading case in this area is Desney v. Wilder, 46 Cal. 2d 715 (1956). To establish an idea submission claim under Desney for breach of an implied-in-fact contract, the plaintiff must show that the plaintiff prepared the work, disclosed the work to the offeree for sale, and did so under circumstances from which it could be concluded that the offeree voluntarily accepted the disclosure knowing the conditions on which it was tendered and the reasonable value of the work.

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