Alex Maranzano asks for suggestions about protecting the copyright in design work in pitches. The answer is simple. The real problem is that Maranzano is asking the wrong question.
Ownership of copyright can only be transferred by a written instrument signed by the copyright owner. In the absence of such a document, copyright will stay with the agency, even if they have been paid a pitch fee.
In reality, a rejection fee is often paid on condition that all the agencies which pitch agree to assign their copyright.
What Maranzano is clearly seeking goes beyond the protection of the expression of his idea afforded by copyright law. He wants to protect the idea itself. Again, the answer is simple. A pre-pitch letter which expressly states that the ideas submitted are being disclosed under an obligation of confidence will do much to protect the agency.
But there are limits to what can be achieved. There will be no breach of copyright if there has been no copying, even if there are similarities between the end product. There will be no breach of confidentiality if nothing has been disclosed, or if the idea itself lacks the necessary quality of confidence. It seems to me to be highly unlikely that any court would consider the idea of using yellow objects to market Yellow Pages has that necessary quality.
So as well as considering the application and limitations of the law of copyright and confidence, the disappointed creative should also bear in mind the laws of defamation.
Lewis Silkin Solicitors