Desny, a screenwriter had an idea for a movie, so he sent a copy of the story to Wilder's office. Wilder's secretary requested a shortened synopsis so the appellant called and gave the synopsis to the secretary over the phone. He told her that he would not let them produce the movie without payment. A film came out based off the historical person Desny described, and contained fictional elements identical to those Desny described to the secretary without any remuneration. Desny brought action for damages.
- Can there be a property interest contained in an idea?
Summary judgment in favour of the defendants reversed, new trial ordered.
Orally expressed ideas are free to be used, unless the plaintiff expressly or implicitly obtained an agreement to be paid for them, such as a contract, i.e there is no property interest in ideas. The court makes the distinction between ideas and the expression of ideas; the court ruled that there are property rights in the expression of ideas, but not in the ideas themselves. When you have a copyright, what is protected is only the expression. The theme, plot or idea is always common property.
There is no inherent property in ideas, only those ideas that are published or expressed in permanent form.