You write, edit, re-write, format and polish, until finally you have successfully written an entire screenplay. After you've taken a moment to mentally compose your Academy Award acceptance speech, sit back down and put a copyright on your work. This is not to suggest that Hollywood is teeming with people who are less than angelic, but you'll sleep better at night knowing your hard work can't be legally claimed by anyone else. The copyright procedure is simple, inexpensive and can be taken to multiple levels, depending on how much protection you think you need. To copyright your screenplay, follow these steps, and if someone tries to take credit for or use your material without your permission, you can take them to court and petition for financial compensation.
Do the "poor man's" copyright. On the front page of your script, draw the copyright symbol--the letter "c" enclosed in a circle (©). Follow the symbol with your name and the year.
Print out a copy of the completed screenplay and place it into a padded mailing envelope along with the page containing the copyright.
Mail the script to yourself. When it arrives, do not open it. Place the unopened envelope in a waterproof container and store it in a safe location. Should you ever need to defend the creation of your screenplay, the date stamp on the package will verify the time frame in which the script was written.
Register your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office by accessing their online system (see Resources). Fill in the form and upload your completed script onto their website. Once the screenplay has been accepted, they will collect your credit card information. As soon as the charges go through, the copyright will be in effect.
Print out the Copyright Office registration form and send it through the regular mail, if you prefer the paper version to the Internet. Send the completed application along with a copy of your script. Do not forget to include a money order or check to cover the filing fees.
File a copy of your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America, either online or through the mail (see Resources). They will keep a copy of your script in their active inventory for 10 years. If you wish to keep your screenplay listed with them, you will need to renew your registration periodically.