Copyright Your Screenplay
In order to register your screenplay or written work as copy written, you must download the appropriate form and mail it in to the copyright office. Click here for the form
While the Application Form PA is the best way to enforce your copyright, anything you write is automatically covered by copyright if it meets a few conditions:
1. Your work must be original. If you "borrowed" a plot from another screenplay, you can't copyright it. You could only copyright what you have created. I'm not, an attorney and there are some very gray areas here.
2. The work must be on paper or fixed in another "tangible means of expression." So you can't copyright a story you told a friend unless you have written it on paper or other "tangible means."
3. The work must be an independent expression of an author. This means that only the expression rather than the idea can be copyrighted. So your dialogue, visual descriptions and characters are protected, but your idea is not. Again this can get into a gray legal area.
In addition you cannot copyright: titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
The first thing to do is write a Copyright notice on the screenplay itself. This consists of the word "Copyright," (c), or © followed by the year of first publication and the name of the Copyright owner. You will often see the term ALL RIGHTS RESERVED immediately after the copyright. This gives some legal protection outside the U.S.
The next step is to fill out the Form PA and send it in. Since the copyright office gets over a half million applications a year, you won't receive an acknowledgment that your application was received. You will, however, receive a certificate of registration or a letter requesting additional information. This can take up to four months.
The registration is effective on the date that all the required elements --the application, $20 fee and the work itself --are received in the Copyright Office, regardless of when you receive your certification.
Since January 1, 1978, a Copyright is in effect for the author's life plus 50 years. If the author's name is not known (anonymous) or the author's real name is not known (pseudonymous) or the author is an employer (as in "works made for hire,") the duration is from 75 years from publication, or 100 years from creation --whichever comes first.
Anything copyrighted in or before 1977 was protected for a period of 28 years, with a renewal option for 47 more years. That means that anything that was copyrighted 75 or more years ago from today is now in the public domain. It can be a bit more complicated than that so don't just run out and re-publish something without seeking legal advice.
Registering Your Screenplay with The Writer's Guild (www.wga.org)
You can also register your script with the Writers Guild at a cost of $22 for non members. While this registration does not carry the legal protection of copyright, it could be valuable as evidence in a legal proceeding. And unlike a copyright, The Writers Guild registration is only valid for five years when it must be updated. To register online, click here
Registration By Mail or In Person
Procedure for Deposit by Mail or In Person
The Registration office must receive:
1) One (1) unbound loose-leaf copy of material on standard paper, 8 1/2" x 11".
2) Cover sheet with title of material and all writers' full legal names.
3) Social security number (or other government-issued ID), return address, email address, and phone numbers of authors.
4) Registration fee(s): WGAw and WGAE members in good standing - $10, non-members - $20.
Download a convenient title page to use when registering by mail or in person.
When the material is received, it is sealed in an envelope and the date and time are recorded. A numbered certificate is returned which serves as the official documentation of registration. Because the certificate is your proof of registration, it should be kept in a safe place.
Notice of registration may consist of the following wording on the title page:
"REGISTERED WGAw No.____."
Material and payment may be delivered or mailed to:
7000 W. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Visit our FAQ page or contact the WGAw Registry at (323) 782-4500 for additional information.
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Monday through Friday
For your added convenience, a 24-hour drop box is available, located after hours in the main lobby of the Writers Guild.