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Friday, December 23, 2011

I find that some people say that to register a copyright with the U.S. office, as opposed to registering with the WGA, is frowned upon in the Hollywood industry, and that it makes you look like a paranoid amateur. They state that copyrighting is only something the production company does when they want to buy a script from a writer, and that having an already existing copyright can even sour a potential sale because the executives won't want to go through the hassle of having a lawyer do more work to transfer your copyright to the studio.
Writing "registered with the Library of Congress" might come off as a bit paranoid, but you don't have to tell anyone you've done so. At least not until you option your script. And at that point, should it come up, it's trivial (a one page document) to assign the copyright to a new owner.

Does anyone have contrary information?

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5 Comments:

I was taught by several of my screenwriting teachers (all working screenwriters) and a screenwriter who's also an entertainment lawyer to copyright your script. Having WGA registration provides some protection, but only copyright provides full legal protection. None of them seemed to believe it would scare off potential buyers.

By Blogger tazo, at 9:09 AM  

When you go to get distribution it's a bit of a PITA if the screenwriter has a copyright on the underlying work.
The issue is that the distributor wants as clean and clear a chain-of-title as possible. So you might end up (as the producer) having to re-copyright the work as having been made-for-hire because otherwise the finished motion picture is a "derivative work".
I don't actually understand the details of the ins-and-outs of the copyright but I know that it's more convenient for me, as a producer, to not have the screenplay copyrighted by the writer -- even if I'm the writer.
As a note: to sign a SAG contract you need to have a copyright on the script so that SAG can see a chain-of-title for the lein they can put on the movie if you don't pay the actors properly.

By Blogger Andrew Bellware, at 1:49 PM  

"Having WGA registration provides some protection, but only copyright provides full legal protection."

I believe the primary purpose of script registration with the WGA is to aid in authorship disputes (credit) and payment disputes (completion dates) that the union will handle on your behalf or decide themselves. They'll provide their documentation to your attorney if you ask, for use in a lawsuit, but it's no substitute for copyright in a legal dispute between you and another person or company. And they'll register material from anyone, even people who aren't in the union. I have no idea what their standards are for accepting an initial claim. It could be good and rigorous or absolute crap open to exploitation.

Many people aren't aware of this, but you can't even sue for statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement) if your work isn't registered with the copyright office. Only actual damages.

It costs $35 to register a script electronically with the copyright office and $20 to register with the WGA. Given the assumed minimum MBA value of a script if sold, it seems a wise investment to do both as a matter of course and don't bother noting that you've done either on the script itself.

If someone wants to buy it, I'm sure they'll ask what the legal status of it is. If they don't, you probably won't want to do business with them anyway. </two-cents>

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 2:55 AM  

Maybe this is a dumb question, but should/can you also register specs?

By Blogger Cory, at 3:53 PM  

I suggest you to listen to John August's September 26, 2011 Scriptnotes podcast. If I remember well, what is done in these cases is that the studio retroactively hires the writer, so he transfers the copyright and gets full guild protections.

Oh, I've just noticed there's a transcript of the episode.

Link to the episode: John August's Scriptnotes Sep 26, 2011


Craig: "But here’s how it ties back to this whole spec thing: I write a spec screenplay. It’s mine. Nobody commissioned it, I wrote it. I have two choices: I can register it with the United States Copyright Office and now I have copyright, or I can just do nothing and just have implied copyright.

Now, it comes time for me to sell it to a studio. They want to buy it. The way it’s all been worked out is, either I transfer the copyright to them — which they just basically say is a condition, so if you don’t want to transfer the copyright to us, no dice, no sale — or, if I haven’t registered it, I just backwards retroactively agree to say that they commissioned it and it’s a work for hire."

By Blogger Alejandro, at 6:52 PM  

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