Tenielle asks

Just a quick question about intellectual property of ceremony drafts. Hasn’t happened to me, but have heard of stories of celebrants issuing a draft ceremony for the clients to look over, and then that ceremony being taken by the couple to a cheaper celebrant. Don’t know how true it is, but it did get me thinking about my own Ts and Cs and about how I could best protect myself at the end of the day. Look, I know how easy it is to forward on a PDF or a Word Document and there’s stuff all we can do about it at the end of the day, but it’s just another aspect of this job that’s been on my mind a bit lately.

So there are three angles I’m going to answer this question from:

  1. copyright law, knowing it and protecting yourself
  2. sending scripts
  3. why is your script stolen

And I’ll start with the most important one (in my humble opinion):

Why is your script being stolen

I’ve heard this anecdote at OPD and also at a celebrants’ catchup as well, and to be completely honest, for the celebrants I heard tell the story, their script was probably the most valuable thing they offered. Which is where I’d like to pivot everyone’s attention from.

If the greatest asset you bring to the whole experience you are invoicing for is an easily stolen thing like a script, then prepare for it to be stolen. Lock it down, password protect the PDF you send, plaster it with watermarks and copyright notices so everyone knows it is stolen, and make sure the filename has your name in it.

But, I can tell you with my whole heart that a script is the least valuable thing I offer my clients. In fact I don’t even offer one or read from one (that’s another blog post some day soon).

When I’m selling my experience – and providing it – I am confident that the greatest assets I bring to a wedding are my public speaking ability, knowledge of the couple and their story, confidence, personality, sound equipment, experience, vibe, and atmosphere. Before the wedding I pride myself on getting to know the couple so well, and I take copious notes on them and their stories, so on the day I am so in tune with who they are and how they party.

I’ve got a problem with the anecdote: are the stolen scripts plain old “insert name here” scripts being emailed across before the couple has even booked? If so, those scripts have no value and maybe you should give them away on your website as free content.

If the script being stolen is a personalised and custom written one, is it that generic that it could be stolen and reworked for other couples? And how did the couple get it without paying you? Or have they paid and then hired a cheaper celebrant?

I think there are some holes in the old wives’ tale but I’m glad we’re talking about it.

Sending scripts

If you hand me the script to 2016 movie, Deadpool, and asked me to “do my best” while you grabbed a bowl of popcorn and dimmed the lights, it would be a heavily saddening experience for all involved. But if you hand the exact same script to Ryan Reynolds you’ll have a much better night.

It is much this way with handing a ceremony script to our couples, once again, in my humble opinion.

There is so much more to your ceremonies than the words on the page. There’s the delivery, the energy, the staging, and the execution.

I know I’m very much a loner on this idea, in fact my own co-host and co-editor of this website, Ms Aird, doesn’t agree with me. But I think handing a script to a couple and meekly asking “is this ok?” isn’t the best way to achieve what you’re trying to achieve – and it’s possibly detracting from your couples’ experience with you.

I listen to my couples requests and ideas, and on the day they experience them fresh. I’ll ask for their stories, and then run them back past them to make sure I’m telling them right. And if there are heavily scripted parts, I’ll check sections past them. A good example of this might be if there is a specific story to be told, or perhaps, if there’s a eulogy at a funeral.

But when I visit my mechanic I don’t ask for a play by play of what he did to the car, I trust he did the best job. And when I fly a Qantas jet, I’m not asking for the flight data, I’m trusting that the pilots have got this journey sorted – so I would argue that when you position yourself as a really good celebrant, an expert in ceremony, your couples aren’t hoping you send them a script to read and check, they’re expecting a kick ass ceremony out of you, and it’s your job to deliver.

If my couples ask for a script, I tell them I don’t provide one. In-fact I tell them at the sales meeting that I’m that good I don’t need one and won’t ask them to check one. I’ll meet with them so much, and run through how the ceremony will go, but I’m not sending them an email asking for permission to speak these certain words at their wedding because they gave me permission when they paid my invoice.

Any creative business person in Australia should know their intellectual property rights, and if you don’t, you should buy “Owning It” by Sharon Givoni, an amazing Melbourne intellectual property lawyer.

But here’s the short version:

Copyright is the protection of work, which is not to be confused with trademarks (the protection of brands) and patents (the protection of inventions).

So copyright is the protection of original works, like photographs, paintings, music and sound recordings, video recordings, recipes, books and written material, and computer software. Today we’re talking about written material.

If you have, with your own heart and soul, written words into a word document, or onto a sheet of paper, thus making them “material form” then that is your intellectual property and luckily for you, without a copyright mark, without attaching your name to it, or registering it with any government, that work is automatically covered and protected by Australian copyright laws, (and thanks to the Berne Convention, 175 other countries). So the second you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, you already own copyright of that work, and you maintain ownership for your entire life plus 70 years, so your estate can even claim an infringement of copyright after your death.

If I steal your script. you can very validly contact the authorities and report a theft.

The © copyright symbol doesn’t protect you more or less, and if the thief isn’t familiar or respectful of copyright law, then that little logo probably won’t stop them. It’s like photographers with watermarked logos on their photos: the people who were going to steal will still steal, and the rest of us have to put up with the ugly logo on the photo.

So like any crime, it needs to be reported, not told as an anecdote or old wives’ tale at OPD or in celebrant catchups as we try to justify why a couple chose another celebrant.