You’ve just finished the latest draft of your script. Not the first draft; maybe a few later. Exactly which one is irrelevant.
But you’ve got what you consider a pretty solid script, to the point that you think it’s ready to start sending out. Queries, contests, what have you.
What important step should you take before anything else?
For a more thorough explanation than I could ever provide, here’s a post from the apparently defunct cinemoose.com that all screenwriters should read and heed – especially those of you still in the starting-out stage.
(Author’s note – this is just one of the numerous posts about this topic from the screenwriting-based internet, but the info and advice is more or less the same)
“So you’ve finished your new script and you’re ready to send it out to producers and production companies. How do you protect your work?
Registering your script with the Library Of Congress costs $35. The WGA (Writers Guild of America) offers a similar service for $10 for WGA members and $20 for non-members. So which one is better? Or should you do both? And what about the “poor man’s copyright”?
The Library of Congress
The Library Of Congress is the organization within the United States that deals with copyrights. What is a copyright? According the Library of Congress website, copyrights are a part of intellectual property law that protects “original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.”
Copyrights do not protect names, titles or ideas. This last point is an important one. Just because you have a great idea for a movie about a disaster movie involving earthquakes does not mean that you copyright that idea and prevent someone else from making a disaster movie about earthquakes. Copyrights only protect the way an idea is specifically expressed. What this means in plain English is that copyrights may only protect the characters, dialogue and story elements that make your specific telling of the story unique.
Technically speaking, your script is copyrighted from the moment you finish it. However, it is a good idea to register your screenplay with the Library of Congress to establish a legal record that may be used in court if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit as a plaintiff or defendant. Registering your screenplay costs $35 and is a relatively simple and straightforward process. Note: screenplays fall under the category of performing arts, not literary works. You can visit the Library Of Congress’s copyright site for more information or download the forms for copyright application here: Copyright Registration Form PA.
The WGA Script Registry
The WGA also maintains a script registry service for screenwriters to register their works. Their service costs $10 for WGA members and $20 for non-members and is valid for five years. The WGA claims that while their service does not replace registering your work with the Library Of Congress, the WGA script registry offers an additional layer of legal protection for your work.
Hogwash. Registering with the WGA does not offer any legal protection for your script. It is, in fact, a money-making scheme of the WGA. The only thing you can do to legally protect your work that will hold up in a court of law is to register with the Library of Congress. The WGA script registry is a waste of money and is not recommended unless you have money to spare and just wish to support the WGA.
(Author’s note – the WGA registration has to be renewed every five years, whereas the Library of Congress copyright is good for the life of the author, plus another 70 years.)
Poor Man’s Copyright
I’m sure that many of you out there have heard of the poor man’s copyright. This process involves mailing a copy of your work to yourself and keeping the sealed envelope with the certified mailing stamp as evidence of your copyright. The poor man’s copyright is little more than an old wives’s tale as there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection. It’s about as useless as the WGA’s script registry.”