How To Copyright A Script
You’ve finally finished your masterpiece script for the ages. It’s chock-full of drama, intrigue, and plot twists your audience will never see coming. Congratulations! But now that you’ve gone through the hard work of putting your ideas to paper, how do you protect them? If you want to ensure that you receive proper credit and compensation for all your hard work, copywriting your script is the best way to do it. Here’s everything you need to know about how to copyright a script.
What is a copyright?
According to United States copyright law, a copyright is “a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship.” You can copyright just about any form of creative work, including photographs, paintings, songs, books, movies, and, yes, scripts.
United States copyright protection provides copyright owners with certain exclusive rights, including the right to publish, reproduce, or sell their intellectual property. Want to know the best part? Creators automatically receive copyright to their original works just by making them. The second you type out your unique ideas onto the page, you’re automatically the copyright owner of your script, and you possess all the exclusive rights that come along with it.
Sound amazing? It definitely is. But unfortunately, that’s not the end of the copyrighting process for most screenplay writers.
Why should you officially copyright a script?
While automatic copyright is convenient, it doesn’t provide you with any official paperwork to prove the authorship of your script. That can be a problem if you ever find yourself in a legal battle over your rights.
What if an unscrupulous filmmaker tries to steal your script without crediting or paying you? How will you prove that you’re actually the copyright owner of your script in court? While rare, it, unfortunately, happens from time to time. Officially copyrighting your script is the best way to protect your hard work from would-be theft and protect your rights as a creator.
There are more reasons to officially copyright your IP than just protection from theft. If you want to sell your script, you’ll need to have an official chain of title for it. Think of a chain of title like a deed of ownership for your script. It lets potential buyers know that you are the official owner and that they won’t run into any legal snags at any point in production. Officially copyrighting your script is the easiest way to generate a chain of title. The sooner you have one, the sooner you can start submitting your script to agents and producers.
Now that you’re clear on the benefits of copyright, here’s how you can copyright a script in the United States!
How to copyright your screenplay online in the United States
In the United States, you can copyright your script online at the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). You’ll have to list your name, location, and other identifying information to create an account. Remember, other people will see the information you provide since copyrights are accessible to the public.
After creating your account, it’s time to register your script! Filling out the application is a relatively straightforward process. You’ll input the name of your script, the year you completed it, the name of the author, and some other basic information.
Then you’ll choose a category to register it under. While choosing the “Motion Picture” category may seem logical, scripts actually belong under the “Performing Arts” category. Your script is only considered a motion picture after it’s been filmed.
Fill out each required category, then thoroughly review all information you’ve provided. You won’t be able to change it later, so make sure it’s all accurate. The last thing you want is a typo on your official copyright registration!
Receiving your new copyright
After you’ve verified that all your information is accurate, you’ll have to pay a $35 fee to finish copyrighting your script online. Then you can officially upload your script and generate a receipt for the shipment of your copyright paperwork.
All you have to do then is wait for your official documentation to arrive in the mail! Remember to be patient here. It can take up to 16 months to receive your official paperwork. It’s a long time to wait. But once you have your official copyright, you’ll have total reassurance that your rights as a creator will stay secure.
Registering your script with the WGA
Of course, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of officially copyrighting your work, there are alternatives. Some writers choose to register their scripts with the Writer’s Guild Association for added protection rather than official copyrighting. Unlike copyrighting, registration with the WGA is instantaneous. It’s far cheaper, too, as it only costs $20 for non-guild members.
While it doesn’t replace an official copyright registration, registering your script is an excellent way to generate proof of ownership for your script. Should anyone try to profit off your work without your consent, you’ll have documented evidence that your screenplay belongs to you.
However, registration only lasts for 5 years before you have to renew it, and the protection you receive won’t be as intensive as it would be with an official copyright. Both registering with the WGA and officially copyrighting are valid options for protecting your work. It’s up to you which option to go with.
What to do after copyrighting your script
So now that you’ve got a freshly copyrighted script, what should you do with it? As the exclusive copyright owner, you have the right to publicly display it on your website or portfolio, distribute it to other people, make derivative works like sequels and prequels, or even try to make it into a movie yourself! Really, you can do whatever you want.
A common goal of many aspiring screenwriters is to sell their work to an agent or producer. One of the most common methods for finding industry contacts is through IMDB pro. For $20 a month, you’ll get professional contact details for tons of Hollywood production companies, studios, and executives.
Try and seek out like-minded companies who’ve made projects similar to your screenplay. You wouldn’t try to sell a horror flick to Hallmark or a romance to Blumhouse Productions. Make a list of every manager, producer, and production company that you think might be interested in your screenplay. Then send them a message about why you think your screenplay would be an excellent addition to their lineup.
Success in Hollywood is all about connections, and you never know where a well-timed email might lead your career. Good luck out there trying to make your Hollywood screenwriting dreams come true!