What's the best way to protect your screenplay?
Should you register your screenplay with the US Copyright Office and/or with the Writers Guild of America Registry? This is a common question and we'll endeavor to keep the answer as simple as possible. The short answer is that if you want to be really safe and have maximum legal protection, you should register with the US Copyright Office. The long answer is that you don't necessarily have to do either. In fact, there's an attorney named Larry Zerner who thinks the WGA should shut down its registration service entirely.
Related blog post: What the Recent Supreme Court Ruling Means for Screenwriters
On the one hand, your screenplay is automatically protected under United States law. According to section 408 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, registration of a work with the Copyright Office is not a prerequisite for copyright protection. But on the other hand, in order to win an actual copyright infringement lawsuit you have to prove (a) that you own a copyrighted work; and (b) that somebody acting without authority, copied the original aspects of it. That second part is especially tricky to do because you have to prove that somebody had access to your screenplay. And if you can't actually prove that they copied it, you have to demonstrate “probative” or “substantial” similarity” to the original elements of your screenplay. It's a very messy process with no easy solution. The best way to protect your screenplay is to be smart and only share it with reputable people.
That said, don't be over-cautious, because in this business it's not the ideas that matter so much as the execution. Everybody sees a fantastic movie in their mind, but that movie has to be translated onto the page which is the highly specialized craft of screenwriting. On one of our recent independent film producing panels, our panelists even suggested that you should share your script with anybody and everybody! Watch the video clip here.
So should you register your screenplay? Yes. Many people simply opt for WGA registration because it's easier and cheaper, however bear in mind that it is not copyright registration and it's only valid for 5 years. The safest thing to do is to register it with the US Copyright Office.
We provide a streamlined, simple US Copyright Registration service here. This can add a degree of legitimacy to your script and will make some producers feel more comfortable reading it (and optioning it, hopefully). Again, the best protection is to deal only with people who have a reputable track record.
US Copyright Registration Service (entertainment attorney oversees every registration)
United States Copyright Office