Automatic Copyright vs. Registration
You don't have to actually register your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to have copyright protection. A copyright protects all original works of authorship, so you automatically get a copyright in your script as soon as you write it. However, if you register your script's copyright, you get additional legal protection. This includes being able to file a copyright infringement lawsuit and having public evidence of your copyright ownership. If you register within three months after publishing your script or before any infringement occurs, you can also get statutory damages and attorney fees if you have to file a lawsuit.
How to Register a Script for a Copyright
You can register a copyright online or by mail. If registering by mail, you'll have to pay an $85 filing fee. Print the application form TX, for literary works, from the Copyright Office's website, fill it out and mail it to the Copyright Office with your payment and a copy of your script. If registering online, use the electronic Copyright Office. By registering online, you save money and your request is processed faster than if you register by mail. The online filing fee is just $35. You'll first have to create an account with the U.S. Copyright Office online (called eCO). Choose the option to register a new claim. Under type of work, choose screenplay for motion picture. You'll have to enter information such as the title of your screenplay and when you wrote it. At the end of the process, you'll need to upload your screenplay. If you're using screenwriting software, change it to a .doc or a .pdf before uploading.
Additional Screenplay Registration Options
A copyright registration gives your screenplay full protection under copyright law. However, many screenwriters choose to also register their scripts online with the Writers Guild of America West. Registration provides extra evidence of your ownership of the screenplay and it lasts for five years. With the WGA, you can also register screenplay ideas, treatments and synopses before you've actually written the script. Many scriptwriters choose this method to get early evidence of their script and ideas.
Script Copyright Misconception
It's a common misconception that you should mail a sealed copy of your screenplay to yourself for added protection. This is sometimes referred to as the poor man's copyright and it has no basis in fact. Mailing a sealed copy of your script to yourself does not give you any added protection and is not a substitute for registering your script with the Copyright Office.
- Copyright.gov: Copyright in General
- Copyright.gov: Copyright Basics
- Copyright.gov: Welcome to the eCO Tutorial
- Sue Basko, Lawyer for Independent Media: How to Register Copyright on a Screenplay Online
- Entertainment Law Resources by Mark Litwak: Copyright Registration of Scripts & Films
- Script Magazine: Screenwriter’s Guidepost: How Can I Protect My Script from Theft?
- The Brass Brad: Be Sure to Register Your Material
- WGA West Registry: Frequently Asked Questions
- IP Watchdog: Protecting Ideas: Can Ideas Be Protected or Patented?
- Copyright.gov: Fees
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images