Four years ago, I uploaded a video on YouTube walking through the process of registering a screenplay with the Copyright Office.  You can watch it below if you want.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of people ask me questions on the YouTube page about the registration process.  Rather than have you scroll through the questions and comments on the YouTube page, I though it might be useful to collect them and answer them here.  I hope you find it useful.

Q: What format should I use to upload the script?

A: I would strongly recommend filing in PDF format because it is the format that will almost certainly still be used going into the future.  But they will take TXT or DOC.  I would not use proprietary Final Draft or Movie Magic formats because they may not be supported in the future.  Both programs will allow you to output to PDF.

Q: Do I need to wait until I get back the registration certificate before submitting my script?

A: No.  When you receive the certificate, it will be dated on the date you filed.  So there is no need to wait.

Q: Does the script have to be in industry format?

A: No. The Copyright Office does not care about format. But if you are not using a screenplay program and want to learn about format, I would highly recommend buying The Hollywood Standard which is a really good way to learn proper scrip format tips.

Q: If I rewrite the script, do I need to register it again?

A: You’re not required to, but if your rewrites were extensive, it’s not a bad idea.  Remember, if your script is infringed, the copy of the script that’s deposited with the Copyright Office is what will be at issue.  You don’t need to re-register if the changes are minor.  But if you feel that the changes are major enough that it warrants a new filing, go right ahead.  Remember that there is a page in the application that will ask about previous registrations.  So on that page you will disclose the prior script and describe the changes that you made in the new draft.


Q: Should I also register the script with the WGA Script Registry?

A: NO!  The WGA Script Registry is just a scam to take your money.  Read this article for the reasons why.

Q: Is there anything else I should do after filing the registration?

A: Yes.  Email yourself a copy of the script using a service like Gmail or Yahoo that should be around for a long time.  Title your email, “Copy of Screenplay registered with Copyright Office.” That way, even if your computer crashes or your house burns down, you can always easily find your script by searching your Gmail records.

Q: Can I file even if I’m not a U.S. citizen or resident?

A: Yes.  You can file no matter where you live or your citizenship.  However, the benefits of U.S. copyright registration (e.g., statutory damages, attorney’s fees) only apply if you are filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Other countries have their own laws regarding these issues.

Q: Is there a way to save my information to make it easier to file subsequent registrations?

A: Yes, there is.  When you are done preparing your first application (on the “Review Submission” page), you will see a button at that top that says, “Save Template.”

Save Template

Click that button, name your template (e.g., “My Screenplay Template) and it will save all the information in your application.  The next time you want to register, at the first screen, click the “Use a Template” button on the left and then select your template.

Use Template

Everything will be all filled out. You just make the changes you need, such as the title of the work and the year of completion, but most of the pages will be already filled out.

That’s it.  Have fun and good luck.




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Driving the Batmobile Straight to the Supreme Court

As you may know, if you’ve been following this blog for awhile, for the past four years I’ve been defending Mark Towle of Gotham Garage in a lawsuit brought by DC Comics.  Mark is one of the leading purveyors of replica automobiles in the country, and he was sued by DC for copyright infringement for making life-size, working replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles.

What Mark does is absolutely allowed under U.S. Copyright Law because Congress specifically stated that the design of an automobile (any automobile, even the Batmobile) is not protected by copyright because it is a “useful article” and “useful articles” cannot be copyrighted.

Unfortunately, when we took this argument to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 9th Circuit created a huge exception to this rule, stating that if the car could be considered a “character” then it was protected by copyright, despite the fact that Mark did not copy any of the Batmobiles from the comic books.

So, to right this wrong, myself, along with Ed McPherson and Tracy Rane of McPherson Rane filed a petition for cert yesterday, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to correct this injustice and overreach of copyright law.  I will let you know when we get word of their answer.  Here’s a link to the Petition for Cert. And here’s a link to the documents in the Appendix (for those really interested).  Finally, the Hollywood Reporter did a write up on the petition and you can read that here.


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On May 30, 2015, at 4:00 p.m., I will be speaking at Scriptfest in Burbank on legal issues that every screenwriter needs to know.

On June 9, 2015, at 7 p.m., I will be speaking at California Lawyers for the Arts on “The Top Ten Legal Things Every Filmmaker Needs to Know to Avoid Getting Ripped Off (or Sued).”

And on July 11, 2015, I will be on a panel at Comic-Con speaking about recent developments in the law that affect creators.  Time and location will be posted closer to the event.

If you are in the area and these topics interest you, please come and say “Hi.”

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Oral Arguments on the Batmobile Case

Mark Towle runs a business selling replicas of famous cars from television shows and movies. For the past three years, I’ve been defending Mark Towle in a lawsuit brought by DC Comics over Mark’s sale of reproductions of the 1966 Batmobile and the 1989 Batmobile.  While many people think that the sale of Batmobile’s is per se illegal, Congress specifically excluded the design of automobiles from copyright protection.

On Thursday, February 5, 2015, I was able to argue this issue to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Here’s an article on the case from the Daily Journal to give you some background, and you can watch the oral argument below.  We should have a decision on the case in a few months.


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Hey everyone.

It’s the end of the year and so it’s time for me to give my picks for what I liked the most in the year.  This is not the “best” of 2014, just what I particularly liked.  Also, a few of these things were from earlier than 2014, but I just got around to seeing them.

First, let me just thank all of you who read my blog this year.  Copyrights and Wrongs had over 25,000 page views this year, a 20% increase from the prior year.  I really appreciate that people are reading and engaging with the blog and sharing posts with their friends.  Sometimes, I will check my site traffic and see that I got a huge spike in page views for the day and I can tell it’s because someone shared a post on Facebook or Twitter.  That’s always great and, if you think your friends would appreciate the thoughts in the blog, please feel free to send it on.

I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and prosperous 2015.  Now, on to the list.


This one was pretty easy.  When I go to the movie, one of the most important things that i want is to be surprised and Whiplash delivered that in spades.  This story of a young drummer (Miles Teller) looking to be the next Buddy Rich going up against the drill instructor conductor (J.K. Simmons) kept me on my toes and had lots to say about the nature of art and the lengths that people will go to achieve success.  If Simmons doesn’t win the Oscar for Supporting Actor, I will eat my hat.

Other favorite movies – The Grand Budapest Hotel, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Birdman, Selma

Most underrated performance of the year. Essie Davis in The Babadook.  I liked, but didn’t love the movie, but Davis’ performance as a mother going unhinged was truly great.  If Naomi Watts or Nicole Kidman had given the same performance, their would be no question they would be nominated, but because Davis is unknown outside of Australia, she is certain to be overlooked for this tremendous work.


I got to do one of my favorite things in 2014 and that is go to New York to see theater (six shows in five days).  And, although I saw some great stuff (even Rocky: The Musical was fantastic), the best thing I saw was back at the Pantages in Los Angeles, and that was the revival of Pippin.

I have seen Pippin a few times over the years and think it’s a good, but not great musical.  But this revival, directed by Diane Paulus (who also directed the great revival of Hair a few years back) made the show fantastic.  Changing the musical into a circus added great pizazz to all the musical numbers.  And Andrea Martin, who won the Tony for Best Featured Performance in a Musical was jaw-dropping although she was really only in the show for about 10 minutes.  The revival just closed on Broadway but is still touring the country.  Go see it.

Favorite Theater Moment of the Year

The other great musical I saw in 2014 was 2012’s Best Musical “Once.” And no moment in theater got me happier than the number “Gold.”  Check it out from the 2012 Tony Awards.

Bonus fun fact: The older man in the lower left of the screen is David Patrick Kelly, better known as Luther (“Warriors, come out and play-a-ay!”) in the film The Warriors.


FICTION – The Martian  

I’m a big fan of science fiction and The Martian by Andy Weir is one of the best sci-fi novels in recent years.  An (almost) completely plausible story of an astronaut trapped alone on Mars and trying to survive and escape, the book is full of fascinating science and great characters.  Weir self-published the book on Kindle and now it’s going to be a movie starring Matt Damon.  You will not be disappointed.

NON-FICTION – You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup

This book is actually from 2010, but I only discovered it this year.  Peter Doggett tells the story of the Beatles breakup from the perspective of the various lawsuits that took place both among the band members and with third parties.  As an entertainment lawyer, I found the behind-the-scenes machinations fascinating and if you, like me, are interested in both the Beatles and entertainment law, you will love this book.


This was an easy one for me because there was only album that came out this year that I listened to over and over again.  That album was Forever For Now by LP.  LP is the stage name of Linda Pergolizzi and I really don’t know why her album is not getting more attention.  Great songs, a fantastic voice, and a great presence, LP is my new favorite artist.  I’m really looking forward to see what she’s going to do in 2015.

Favorite Performance of the Year

Another easy one.  Future Islands performance of Seasons on the David Letterman show was the best 3:50 on television in 2014.  Check it out and tell me if you agree.


This was the toughest category because there was so much great television this year.  I loved Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Homeland, The Newsroom, Transparent, Orange is the New Black, and House of Cards.  But for my favorite, I have a tie between Fargo and The Leftovers.

Fargo was just a fantastic story with incredible acting, led by Billy Bob Thorton as the evil but charming Lorne Malvo, and Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, the show just got better and better, week after week.

The Leftovers was something entirely different.  The first two episodes were kind of weak as they set up the strange plot of a world where 2% of the population has disappeared and how the remaining people deal with it.  But, starting with the third episode, the shows got more introspective and turned into perfect short stories on flawed people dealing with a horrible situation.  Episode 6 – “Guest” was my favorite, which follows Nora (the amazing Carrie Coon) as she travels to New York for a conference.  Always unpredictable, this show really moved me in ways that few other shows have.

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One of the challenges new screenwriters face is that they tend to have a poor understanding of what their script is worth on the market.  As a result, they either ending up selling their script for much less than they should, or else put such a high price on it, no one would ever buy it.  Let me give you two recent examples of conversations I’ve had with clients to illustrate the point.

The first client, let’s call him Al, adapted a 20 year old mystery novel (not a best seller).  He had optioned the rights to the novel and was now looking to sell the package to a producer.  When I asked him how much he was expecting to get in the sale, he said that the script was so good, he thought it would be worth a $1,000,000. Now I understand that writers are proud of their scripts and think they are gold, but no one is going to give a first time screenwriter, without an agent, anything close to a $1,000,000 for their screenplay.  The only reason that a first time screenwriter can get a number in the million dollar range is because there are other producers offering $900,000.  But if there is only one producer bidding on your script, he’s not going to offer you anything close to $1,000,000 because he doesn’t need to.  When there is only one person bidding on your screenplay, they set the terms, not you.  You either take what they have to offer or your screenplay stays locked in your desk drawer.  That doesn’t mean you should roll over and sell it for $1,000 but you should adjust your expectations accordingly.  Otherwise, you will be waiting forever for the deal to get made.

The second client, call her Betty, called because a company had agreed to make a movie out of her horror script.  But the entire budget for the movie was going to be $100,000.  That meant that she would maybe get $5000 for her screenplay.  When I was talking to her about this, she told me that she thought that this was her best script yet.  I said to her, “If you think that this is your best screenplay, why would you agree to sell it for such a low price?”  She thought about it for a second and realized that agreeing to such a low number was nuts. After spending months and months of work on a screenplay, it just seems crazy to let it go for such a low price, especially when she hadn’t even attempted to try to sell it elsewhere yet.

The moral for both of these clients is that you need to have a realistic value of your script before you try to sell it.  Yes, there are writers who sell their screenplays for $1,000,000, just as there are people who buy winning lottery tickets at 7/11. Just because it happens doesn’t mean that you should expect that it will happen to you.  Especially if you haven’t got a high-powered agent to drum up business in your script.

The price of the script depends on a number of factors (e.g,. genre, budget, source material, etc.) but the number one factor is whether there is more than one producer who wants to buy it. Joss Whedon doesn’t get paid millions of dollars just because he’s a really good writer.  He gets that because there are a lot of producers who want to hire him.

On the flip side, if your plan is to make a living as a screenwriter, don’t price your script so low that a sale won’t even pay a month’s rent.  There is a happy middle ground between too high and too low, you just need to find it.

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Question of the Day:


About six months ago I sent my screenplay to an independent producer.  He said he liked it, but that it wasn’t in good enough shape to submit to studios.  He gave me a bunch of notes on improving the script, things like adding characters, deleting scenes, and suggested that I change the ending.  I wrote a draft that incorporated his changes and he said he liked it much better and would start shopping it around town.  But when I asked him about paying me for an option, he said he would only pay me $1.00 for a two year option.  Having read your post about free options, I told him I couldn’t agree to that and said I would take it somewhere else.  But now the producer says that because he gave me suggestions for the script, he is a “co-author” and I can’t take it anywhere without his permission.  Is that true?  Is he really a co-author?  What can I do about this?

Signed,  Pissed Off Writer.

Dear POW,

This is a question that I get fairly often and is something that plagues many screenwriters.  So let’s see if we can answer it.

For the producer to be a co-author, a joint work must have been created.  So what constitutes a “joint work.” According to the Copyright Act, a “joint work” is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole. 17 U.S.C.A. § 101.

When courts have had cases where they had to interpret this statute, they tend to focus on two things:  1) What was the “intent” of the parties, and 2) What was contributed by each party.

Here’s the good news, most courts that have dealt with this issue have held that in these situations, the producer is not considered to be a joint author.  That is because most people would agree that there is no “intent” by the parties to create a joint work.  Even if the producer says he intended to create such a work, the screenwriter is pretty adamant that he did not intend for a joint work to be created.  So, problem solved, right?

Not so fast.  Even if a joint work was not created, it could still be possible that the producer contributed copyrightable material to the script.  This would not be the case if the producer just gave general notes like “shorten that scene” or “change the ending.”  But there could be a situation where the producer actually wrote a scene and added it to the script.  Or the producer could have come up with a new character independently and instructed the screenwriter to put the new character in the script.  In cases such as these, even though there is no “joint work,” the producer could make trouble by claiming to be the sole owner of that character or the scene he wrote.  If he’s going to do so, the way to resolve it is to just remove those specific elements from the script.  Since you already had a draft of the script that existed before the producer got involved, you can just go back to the earlier draft and leave the producer’s contributions in the trash.

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