How to Copyright Your Screenplay to Protect Your Ideas
How can you protect your great script or story idea before you send it out into the world? copyright your script!
We’ve all been there. we finished a great script and we’re excited to get it out there to show everyone what we’ve done. It’s got plot twists, turns, and you know it’s going to sell. Maybe you’ve spent the last few weeks working on our free screenwriting seminar and you’re very proud of your work.
but you also have to be protective. If ideas are bought and sold in Hollywood, then you need to make sure you get credit for your great ideas and hard work.
That means that before you submit your script to production companies, potential agents, and contests, you must copyright your script.
what is a copyright?
A copyright is a legal document that protects your proprietary ideas, such as scripts, from being plagiarized or stolen.
but here’s the problem: you can’t copyright an idea.
what protects the copyright of a script?
the law says that a person cannot register an idea or a thought. so if you’re pitching your perfect time travel idea and someone overhears you at nate’s house and others, they can steal your idea and write it themselves.
but don’t get whispery in public.
be confident in your pitches and your ability to execute them better than anyone who can hear you eating a pastrami sandwich.
Just keep in mind how much time and effort it takes to write a good script. the reality is that if the guy next door at the deli thinks the idea is so good that he steals it, writes it himself, and the movie gets made, then your ideas are awesome and you’ll have more.
just worry about protecting your written ideas.
why you should copyright your script
You want there to be a public record of your script so you can protect yourself if you ever have to go to court. this probably won’t happen.
but it’s the only reason to copyright your script.
Think of it like insurance. you pay for it constantly but hope you never need it.
That said, all of this documentation is needed in the future if your film is finished and sold for distribution.
A written treatment or summary of a fully developed story must qualify for copyright protection. and so do the entire scripts for both the pilots and the features.
One cool thing about the law is that it states that copyright vests automatically in “original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.” so if you write it, it’s automatically copyrighted. but you still need to prove when you wrote the document, so sending it to the copyright office is also important.
You can even register it with the wga to create a paper record of when you came up with the idea.
how to register your script in the wga
the wga is about protecting writers. Whether it’s showing you to turn down a free job or giving you a space to register your script, they’ve got you covered.
from the wga:
“registration of your work in the wgaw registry documents the authorship claim of a written work and does not replace registration with the library of congress, the us copyright office which primarily documents the ownership or rights to the written work.While you are both creating legal evidence that may be used in court, we encourage you to contact the Library of Congress directly if you have questions about copyright procedures or practices.
how to copyright your screenplay in the united states
To obtain the copyright to your script, log in to the us copyright office. uu. and complete your application. they have a whole online area for screenplays and scripts.
There will be a fee, but good news, it’s cheaper online. online it can cost between $35 and $55, but if you submit a paper application, it costs $85.
Regardless of how you pay, you must submit your script. To do this, you need to decide whether your script is “published” or “unpublished”. most people who want to copyright a script have an “unpublished” script. the script is “published” if you have offered copies of it for sale or rent.
If you submit your registration online, you may upload a copy of your unpublished script. if you register by mail or if your script has been published, you must submit paper copies.
Eventually, you will receive an email confirmation that your script is copyrighted.
summary of how to copyright your script
now you know how to protect your ideas by registering your scripts with the us copyright office. uu. or registering them in the wga.
If you’re excited to start writing, check out our hiring season tips or our four steps to becoming a professional screenwriter.
Remember, your brain is the key to all your ideas. is your money maker. so protect your ideas at all costs. And wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter, just because that will help protect your ideas, too.
don’t worry too much about it though. just focus on writing your best script. then get the copyright office to back you up.
now start writing!