Screenwriting 101: Protecting Your Screenplay

Photo courtesy of identitytheftprotection. net

By Brock Cooper (DoddleNews)

There is nothing more exhilarating than finishing that polished screenplay and getting it out there for people to read, and hopefully make into a movie. While there are plenty of honest people in Hollywood, there are just as many people ready to steal your screenplay and call it their own.

While it is impossible to copyright an idea, technically speaking, your screenplay or your treatment are copyrighted the second you finish either. The difficult part is proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were the first to come up with it. Luckily, there are a couple ways to protect your screenplay in case you need it.

When Do You Need Protection?

While you may think you have the best idea in the world and you covet it like Gollum, an ‘idea’ can’t be copyrighted. Believe me, they’ve tried, but an idea or concept isn’t legally able to be copyrighted. So, if you’re at the local pub and tell some stranger your great idea and he sells it to AMC, then you’re going to have a tough time proving that’s what he did.

You don’t technically need protection until the script is ready to be sent out. So, if you’re waiting until the final copy, then you can look for protection then. If you want to get your first draft out there, then you seek protection at that point.

WGA and Other Outlets

The Writers Guild of America is the governing body for screenwriters and make sure all of their members are getting proper compensation and protection. Both the WGA East and West have registration services. The requirements are about the same as the copyright office, but there is also an online version of the registration. This is the easiest and simplest way to register your work.

East and West are different from each other in prices and duration of registration. They keep the information on file between 5-10 years and you can purchase renewals.

There are also third party registration services. Each one is different as far as cost, duration of registration, etc. Make sure you do your research before choosing one of them. The major upside is they tend to be the least expensive for registration. The average price of registration is between $10-$30.

U.S. Copyright Registration

Another great way to keep your screenplay safe is to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. All you have to do is get the proper forms online at http://www.copyright.gov. Once the forms are filled out, send them along with an actual physical copy of the screenplay and whatever cost there is. The cost isn’t much, but can change over time.

The U.S. Copyright Office will keep the screenplay on file for the entire life of the author plus 70 years. Also, it allows you to seek statutory damages and legal fees instead of only actual damages and profits from the thief. The major downside is that it’s a slow process. It’s the federal government what do you expect. You can’t do it online and it may take as long as six months before you get back a certificate of registration, but your work is protected the day he receive the information.

The Poor Man’s Copyright

You’ve all heard it. If you want to prove your copyright, then simply mail your manuscript to yourself in a sealed envelope. The postmark will prove when you wrote it. It’s called the Poor Man’s Copyright and that may have worked 30 years ago, but in today’s modern world of at-work post marking and resealable envelopes, it’s pretty much useless.