Earlier this week, I mentioned that Warner Bros. had purchased a movie pitch from a writer called James Erwin that had started life as a post on Reddit. Ignoring my cynicism over whether or not social media can ever make good movies or television, there’s one problem: What if Erwin didn’t actually own his idea?
The problem seems to be Reddit’s terms of service agreement, which all users have to agree to when signing up to the site. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the agreement explicitly points out that, in signing, users grant the site “a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.” In that case, doesn’t that mean that Reddit owns the movie pitch in question.
Both Reddit and Warner Bros. have declined comment on the matter, although Jerry Birenz, the copyright agent for Reddit did admit to THR that this was “an interesting issue.” While Erwin obviously will be able to develop his idea (A time-travel story called Rome, Sweet Rome) into a full-length screenplay easily enough, it remains to be seen whether the Reddit user agreement could allow the site to also sell the idea to a rival studio, which could rush its own version into development as a spoiler project.
The moral of this story? Either “never sign user agreements” or “non’t reveal the best parts of your movie pitch on social media.” I’ve not quite made up my mind yet.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.