Everything You Need To Know About Copyrighting A Script

So, you think you are the next Stephen Spielberg.  Well, if you are concerned about someone else stealing your new movie script, obtaining a Copyright from the US Copyright Office before sharing your script is an absolute must.

Of course, it is entirely understandable that after a lot of hard work, you are looking forward to sending that script of yours to agents and producers and dreaming of making the big bucks!. However, you need to make sure that your script is well protected from IP theft before sending it all over the internet.

Through copyright registration, a record of ownership is created and the author is on record with the US Government that the script does indeed belong to the author. When you copyright a script or a screenplay, you are fundamentally developing a paper trail of evidence and proof of original creation. Once a registered copyright of your work is created, you will not only have a record of the ownership of the script but also a slew of other essential rights related to the enforcement of your IP.

What Exactly Is a Copyright?

The principal purpose of a copyright is to protect an author’s “original work of authorship”, which includes songs, lyrics, books, scripts and screenplays. Unlike, a trademark, which protects a brand identity (name, logo, slogan), copyrights attach the minute the work is fixed in a “tangible form” rather than from the time the trademark is used in conjunction with a sales event.  However, ideas in the abstract cannot be protected by a copyright – only the particular written work is subject to copyright. Thus, a copyright can never protect a script writer’s concept or general idea for a TV show or a movie.

Again, the moment a script is written, it obtains a preliminary “Copyright”, even if the script is never actually submitted to the Copyright Office. Generally, the author of the script has the copyrights unless he wrote it as function of his job requirement or if he signed a Work-For-Hire agreement while writing for someone else. The Copyright not only provides with owner with the sole right to the work but also the exclusive right to re-create, copy, distribute, make derivative works, and publicly perform/ display the work.

Advantages Of Copyright Registration

Despite the script already being copyrighted the moment it is finished being recorded, registering with the United States Copyright Officers provides the author with several important advantages.

When you register your work with the Copyright Office, it will form a public record of the copyright ownership, including the script’s creation date (providing you developed the script first!).

Critically, in order to sue a person for copyright infringement in Federal Court, you are required to have a Registered Copyright, rather than the traditional Copyright that is accrued from the moment the work is fixed in a tangible form.

If you have registered your Copyright before the infringement has occurred, you will be able to sue for extra damages, including attorney, if you prevail in the suit. Of course, Registering your copyright will make things a lot easier in court when it comes to proving that you’re the copyright owner.

The Five Steps To Copyrighting Your Script

1. Register With The Copyright Office Electronic System

eCO is the online system that’s part of the copyright office that allows an individual to register their copyright electronically. While the Copyright Applicant also have the option to register via mail, it is a longer, more cumbersome process which will invariably cost more money. Electronic registrations are cheaper and processed much quicker. In order to start the electronic registration process, you’re required to create a username and password if you want to log into the eCO system. Next, it is time to start inputting the administrative info of the applicant and his representative (which if he has other IP, may be his Trademark Lawyer).

2. Complete Your Application

When you apply through the eCO system, you will be asked to log in and complete your application online. If you chose to apply by mail, you are required to download and fill ‘Form PA,’ which is for performing arts works.  Here, you will need to input your name, citizenship, address, name of work etc. The idea is to provide the Copyright Office with a complete profile of the applicant.

3. Pay Your Fee

The government filing fee for the copyright registration will varies according to the number of “works” submitted and whether or not the work/s are already published. You can roughly expect the cost to file the Copyright registration to be in the range of $35 to $55 (for electronic filings). Paper applications cost $85. You can pay for online registrations using a debit card/credit card. You can also pay via ACH transfer through Pay.gov. For mail registrations, you can pay via money order or by check.

4. Present A Copy Of The Work You Did

Next, you need to provide the Copyright Office with the actual work that you’d like to obtain a Copyright on.  Here, you may send a copy or copies of your work to the copyright office either digitally or by slow-mail. How you do this will depend on your script being unpublished or published and the extent to which your “work” is the sort of thing that can be easily transmittable through the internet.  The majority of individuals who are looking to copyright a script for a movie will have a script that’s unpublished and which can be submitted electronically.

If you are registering online, you can submit your unpublished script’s copy. You can visit the copyright office website to get more information regarding size limitations and file types that are acceptable (typicaly, expect to submit your script as a PDF or .doc file). If you’ve registered through mail or have a published script, then you are required to submit paper copies.

5. Wait For The Registration Process To Be Completed

Congratulations! You have made it to the end of the online-filing process and if you’ve done everything correctly, you may expect to receive a confirmation email confirming that your application has been received. However, mail applicants do not get any confirmation from the copyright office.

Hopefully, you will not run into any objections from the Copyright Office but in the event that they any questions regarding your application, you will be contacted with the issue. If not, then it is merely a matter of waiting a number of months for your copyright registration to fully mature and issue.