IT’S TIME FOR THE WRITER’S GUILD TO SHUT DOWN THE WGA REGISTRY

Since 1927, the Writers Guild of America, West Registry has existed as a place where professional and aspiring screenwriters can deposit their scripts.  It exists solely to document a provable date of creation in the event there is a claim of copyright infringement. And yet for all the good intentions of the WGA in establishing the Registry, because writers treat it as a substitute for registration with the Copyright Office, its existence only serves to damage the interests and waste the money of WGA members.    If the WGA is interested in making sure that its members receive the greatest possible protection for their scripts it should immediately shut the Registry down or take significant steps to make sure that the Registry does not act in a way that is antithetical to the best interests of screenwriters.

Over the years, the WGA has marketed the Registry as the place to register a screenplay.  The WGA has made both Final Draft® and Movie Magic Screenwriter® preferred formats for the Registry and writers using these programs believe that depositing a script with the Registry is de rigueur.  As a result, screenwriters have acquired the mistaken impression that using the Registry is all that is required to protect their screenplay.  This perception is completely inaccurate and the WGA should take steps to correct it.

As a copyright lawyer and litigator in Los Angeles for almost 20 years, I have spoken to hundreds of writers, both established and newcomers, who contacted me because they were worried that their screenplay was stolen.  One of the first questions I will ask the writer is whether they registered the script with the U.S. Copyright Office.   While many do tell me that they have, a large percentage proudly tells me that they only registered the script with the Registry.  This error is potentially costing writers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The reason for this is that according to §412 of the U.S. Copyright Act, in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, the Plaintiff cannot receive either attorney’s fees or statutory damages unless they registered with the Copyright Office before the infringement commences.[1]

Judges interpreting §412 have interpreted “commencement” to mean the first act of infringement in a series of ongoing separate infringements.   In the case of motion pictures, the first act of infringement would typically occur at the time a screenplay containing infringing material is written, not the release of the movie.  This means that even if the aggrieved screenwriter finds out about the infringing movie and registers with the Copyright Office before the film’s release, it’s almost certainly too late.  Since the writer registered after commencement of the infringement, he or she could not receive statutory damages or attorney’s fees in any subsequent litigation.

The consequences of failing to register with the copyright office can be tremendous.  If the script was properly registered, a court can award statutory damages of up to $150,000 for willful infringement.  Without prior registration, these would not be allowed. Also, most screenwriters (in fact, most people) cannot afford the attorney’s fees that arise in a copyright infringement lawsuit.  Such fees, if paid on an hourly basis, can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As a result, the screenwriter must usually find an attorney who will take on the case on a contingency fee basis.  But any attorney asked to take on such a case for a 1/3 contingency is going to be hard pressed to do so if neither attorney’s fees nor statutory damages will be part of the award.  Without these possible remedies, the screenwriter would only be able to receive the actual damages suffered by him and any profits of the infringer attributable to the infringement.   But the reality is that for most films, it is almost impossible to show any “profits” (certainly not for films that have just been released).  That leaves the screenwriter’s actual damages.  For a screenwriter with an established track record (like Eric Roth or David Koepp), it may be possible to prove significant damages. But for the vast majority of writers, there is no track record.  It would be difficult at best for them to prove that they would receive any more than WGA minimum for a script.  And if the screenwriter is not a WGA member, it is hard to prove even that much in damages.

Here’s an example of how the damages plays out depending on whether the work was registered with the Copyright Office.

Let’s imagine that our screenwriter, Dan, registered his script with the Copyright Office, and the screenplay was used as the basis for a low-budget movie.  When the movie came out, it bombed, and so there are no profits.  Dan hires a lawyer, who sues for copyright infringement.  Dan has no prior credits, so significant actual damages are hard to prove.  But because the script was registered with the Copyright Office, Dan can ask for statutory damages of up to $150,000.  Faced with the threat of not only paying Dan a large statutory damage award, plus paying Dan’s attorney’s fees and their own attorney’s fees, the producer quickly settles the case, giving Dan a multiple of what he would have received had they bought the script in the first place.

Now imagine the same scenario, except that Dan registered his script with the WGA Registry instead of the Copyright Office.  As a result, Dan can only receive his actual damages, which are somewhat less than $50,000.  But when Dan tries to find an attorney to take his case on a contingency, he is unable to do so.  One-third of $50,000 is only $16,666, which is far less than most attorneys will need to take such a case on a contingency.  Due to the complexities and difficulties of bringing such a case, Dan can’t find an attorney who will represent him.  Consequently, Dan doesn’t bring a lawsuit and doesn’t get any money for the infringement.  Remember, the only difference in these two scenarios is that in one Dan registered with the Copyright Office, and in the other, with the WGA Registry.

Even in the case of an established screenwriter who can prove actual damages of over $150,000, the ability to obtain attorney’s fees is crucial as it could add over $100,000 to the settlement value of a case.

Also, even if a writer did not register with the Copyright Office before learning of the infringement, copyright registration is still required prior to that writer bringing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.  So, even if he previously filed with the Registry,  the writer must still file with the Copyright Office.  This is a waste of the writer’s time and money.

The real shame in all this is that the WGA makes it a point not to educate its members to these facts.  The only reason I can imagine that they keep their members in the dark is that the WGA knows if people were aware that of the truth, no one would bother using the Registry anymore, resulting in what is probably a loss of over $1,000,000 per year to the Guild.  While I’m sure this represents a significant portion of the WGA’s annual revenue, the Guild should not just put this revenue source over their member’s best interests.

In fact, if one visits the details page of the WGA Registry, the word “copyright” is not even mentioned.   And on the WGA Registry FAQ page, where the Guild could easily educate its members about the importance of copyright registration, it merely states:

Does registration take the place of copyright?

Registering your work with the WGAW Registry does not take the place of registering with the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office. However, both create valid legal evidence that can be used in court.

Questions regarding copyright should be directed to the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 707-3000 or to an attorney specializing in that area of law. Click on http://www.loc.gov for more information.

The WGA has an opportunity to clearly explain to its members the benefits of copyright registration.  Instead, the FAQ attempts to equate the Registry with the Copyright Office by claiming that “both create valid legal evidence that can be used in court.”  While this is technically true, it leaves out so much that it must be seen as a deliberate attempt to mislead its members and non-WGA writers who may also register their scripts with the Guild for double the fee as WGA members (currently registration fees for literary material  are $20.00 US for the general public and $10.00 US for WGA members in good standing).

An additional problem with the Registry is that the registration only lasts for five years unless it is renewed for an additional fee (contrast that with Copyright Office registration which remains in force until 70 years after the writer’s death).  Because most people do not bother to renew the registrations, even the initial registration could prove legally worthless to prove prior creation if the infringement is discovered more than five years after the deposit (a not uncommon occurrence).  While this five-year rule may have made some sense in the pre-Internet era when the WGA actually had to pay to store the physical scripts, it makes no sense in 2010, when almost all of the scripts received by the Registry are digitally uploaded.  The cost of maintaining a digital copy of these scripts indefinitely would only cost a few pennies a year.

Because the continued existence of the Registry only serves to hurt the true interests of WGA members, the WGA should shut it down, and instead inform its members that if they want to protect their written material to the greatest extent possible, they should register their script with the U.S. Copyright Office.  If the WGA is not willing to close the Registry, it should, at a minimum, take the following steps.

  1. Add explicit language to the Registry website informing WGA members that WGA registration is not a substitute for Copyright Office registration and informing them that there are significant advantages to registering with the Copyright Office immediately, not just relying on the WGA registration process.
  2. Extend the term of the registrations (especially for digital uploads, from 5 to 20 years (or better yet, indefinitely).  The cost of maintaining these digital uploads is so small that to not do so really shows that the WGA is really more interested in raising revenue then protecting its members.

However it should be acknowledged that as long as the Registry exists, the WGA is not working in the best interests of its members or the greater screenwriter community.   For the good of screenwriters everywhere, the best thing would be for the WGA stop taking further submissions and instead, make sure that writers know that registration with the Copyright Office is the best way to protect their scripts.  But until the WGA takes that step, screenwriters should simply make sure to register their scripts with the Copyright Office and avoid the completely unnecessary time and expense of using the Registry.

Larry Zerner is a copyright and entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles.  More information can be found at http://www.Zernerlaw.com. He can be reached at 310-773-3623 or Larry@Zernerlaw.com.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

[1] §412 of the Copyright Act states, in pertinent part, “[N]o award of statutory damages or of attorney’s fees, as provided by sections 504 and 505, shall be made for (1) any infringement of copyright in an unpublished work commenced before the effective date of its registration . . . .”

Since the vast majority of screenplays constitute “unpublished works,” the registration must be in place before the infringement begins.

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82 Comments

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82 responses to “IT’S TIME FOR THE WRITER’S GUILD TO SHUT DOWN THE WGA REGISTRY

  1. Could it be that one of the main reasons screenwriters eschew the copyright’s office registration is how baffling the process is? The WGA’s single page entry form is sooo easy to fill. The series of steps and definitions shown on the eCO website only leave me extremely confused and convinced I MUST be a complete moron… So, here’s an idea, Larry. How about writing a companion piece to your this post that shows how and what answers to provide at each of the (many!) steps of the registration process? I know I could use the help…

    Like

    • The online Copyright process is a little confusing but I’ve used it with great success. Careful reading and persistence will get you the protection you need. Don’t shy away from the process, it’s your work and your money.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If I’m reading the gist of this article properly, you believe that registering with the WGA isn’t even necessary….

    Like

  3. Toayminator

    I agree with Phil. The U.S. Copyright forms on line are near impossible to decipher. A far cry from a few years ago when it was a hard copy paper form and it was only a couple pages. How ’bout taking Phil up on his request- a companion piece about correctly filling out the eCo forms on line?

    Like

  4. Jason Dudek

    RE: [its existence only serves to damage the interests and waste the money of WGA members]

    Please clarify.

    The author pays the registration.

    Since you do not need to be a WGA member; How is the WGA wasting money by collecting fees for a registration process that many feel provides an additional layer of security?

    Thank you.

    Like

    • zernerlaw

      Jason, the WGA doesn’t provide “an additional layer of security.” There is no additional security provided by the WGA, once a script is registered with the Copyright Office. But if someone wants to register with the WGA after the Copyright Office, it’s there money and they can do what they want. But where I believe the WGA is damaging the the interests of its members because so many mistakenly believe that the Registry is equivalent to the Copyright Office and so don’t bother with registration with the Copyright Office.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris

    When should I register/copyright the script? First draft? Polished draft? If I register the first draft, what happens if the polished draft is different than the first draft? Concept is the same, but scenes have changed, added, moved around… do I need to copyright it again?

    How does it work with revisions and various drafts? Would I need to register each one separately?

    Like

    • zernerlaw

      Register it when you are ready to submit it to producers. If you make substantial changes to the script, then you may want to think about filing an additional registration but not if the changes are minor. The line as to when you want to file an additional registration varies from case to case. Certainly if 25-30% of the script has been changed, I would think about another registration. But if, for example, you completely rewrote the ending and the new ending was very original, then maybe that alone would justify a new registration. .

      Like

  6. Done Dealer

    Thanks for this information.

    I know an idea/concept can’t be protected by copyright. If two members of, say, the same writer’s group write different versions of the same story can the first to register protect the idea?

    For example, idea is Die Hard on a boat. Two writers do different versions of that. What level of similarity is required for it to give rise to a copyright violation?

    Like

    • zernerlaw

      As you say, the idea itself cannot be protected. Trying to explain the level of similarity required for a copyright violation is really too large a concept to address here. But the basic rule is that there must be “substantial similarity” of protected elements. There is no protection for the common elements that would occur in any script using the “Die Hard on a Boat” theme. So the fact that you have one guy against a bunch of terrorists, hostages are taken, large shootouts occur in both scripts would not be factored into the similarity analysis.

      Like

  7. Pingback: SHOULD YOU HIRE A LAWYER TO SUBMIT YOUR SCREENPLAY (INSTEAD OF AN AGENT) | Copyrights and Wrongs

  8. Barry Downes

    Are you aware of the serious loss of copyright deposits in past years at the Copyright Office. This only relates to material registered as published, unpublished work has n0t faced the same problem. What happened a number of years ago is that since the item was registered as “published” and they were having a problem of housing all the deposits, many of them could be removed or destroyed without even informing the copyright owners. I’m not a lawyer, but I have worked with a great many of them. We had one case a number of years ago that first exposed this problem. I think LOC may have cured the problem though God knows how many scripts, songs and other materials were lost over the years often leaving their owners without the protection they might need.

    I am also a lifetime member of WGA-East, I’m not too sure I agree with what you have written. Certainly there are some very convincing reasons why the WGA registration can be extremely helpful in a number of situations. Barry D.

    Like

    • Anthony Riggins

      Hi Barry,

      Thanks for your post. I am considering registering a show idea. What Mr. Zerner has written seems crystal clear to me that dual registration is a waste of time. Please explain what are the added benefits of dual registration.

      Regards

      Like

  9. Dale

    This posting is actually incorrect in several places. But the most glaring error is to somehow suggest that WGA registrations can be used in court as legal “evidence” or anything. They can be used in court if you are a thief who has a case brought against you, but WGA registration provides absolutely ZERO statutory protections whatsoever, which means that if you only have a WGA registration, you cannot BRING a case in court, meaning you cannot sue anyone who has stolen your screenplay or appropriated your story or your script elements if you only have a WGA registration. WGA only does not allow attorneys to recover costs which is the basic tenet of having an attorney take a contingency I.P. case that might cost $900,000 to bring all the way to trial. So. . . writers always need an official registration from http://www.copyright.gov. Always.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      While I certainly agree that all scripts should be registered with the Copyright Office and that the WGA is a waste of money it is incorrect that the WGA is not legal evidence of anything. The WGA Registration is evidence of the date of creation, which can become an issue is someone thinks that you wrote (or changed) the script

        after

      you saw the infringing movie

      Like

      • Anthony

        Mr. Zerner,

        You say “WGA registration is evidence of date of creation”. Doesn’t Copyright Office registration provide the same?

        Like

  10. d

    thank you for this… how does this apply to shared “story by” credit. essentially, i’ve developed a story, and written a screenplay based on an idea by someone else. the wga allows for the distinction between a “written by” credit, and shared “story by”, and “based on an idea by” credit. if someone else’s name is on the cover sheet, and i register the thing as written by me, is it still mine?

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Whether you register with the WGA or Copyright Office has no bearing on what credit the WGA will give you. When you register with the Copyright Office the form asks you if you are claiming rights to the entire work or whether there is an exclusion. You would identify the idea (to the extent it’s protectable) as excluded from what you are claiming copyright protection to.

      Like

  11. Patricia

    Hello Larry,

    Your article is very informative. I was under the impression that registration with the WGA afforded a writer the same protection as registration with the copyright office. Thank-you for shedding some light on the matter.

    Can I ask a question? I am an aspiring screenwriter who is Canadian and resides in Canada. If I register my screenplay with the US copyright office, does this give me protection in Canada as well? Should I register it in both countries?

    Thanks.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      I don’t know what protections Canadian registration gives you but if you are infringed by someone in the U.S. then only a U.S. registration will give you attorney’s fees and statutory damages.

      Like

      • Patricia

        I think I understand the distinction. I took a law course once (for non-law students) as part of my degree. The prof said that you should register a copyright or trademark in the US even if you’re Canadian, but I couldn’t remember why.

        Thank-you for your prompt response!

        Like

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  13. Janet

    For treatments or a onesheet, can I use the Copyright Office? Once I complete a screenplay for these, do I have to register that as a separate work?

    Like

  14. sueann carrasco

    Larry, thank you for all this fantastic information. How can I protect just an idea for a book or a screenplay? I came up with a general concept of what I want a book/movie to be about a couple of years ago, but need help developing it. How do I go about getting help while still protecting my rights? It was my understanding that Califorina protects “ideas”.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      I’m sorry my friend. You have been misinformed. Neither California nor any of the other states can protect “ideas.” Only the expression of that idea is protectable under copyright law

      Like

      • TVGirl

        So then how do we submit an idea for a tv show to the Copyright Office? I’m confused here. Thank you

        Like

      • Larry Zerner

        If it’s detailed enough (not just a one line description, which is not copyrightable), you can write it up and register it just as you would register a script treatment.

        Like

  15. Hazar Umutay

    Hello Larry,

    I have two questions. I hope you can give the answers very shortly.

    1- Are we able to register the material in non-English language through US Copyright or WGA? If yes, the english equivalent of the registered content still be protected?
    2- Is US Copyright or WGA protection only valid in US or all the world?

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      1 – You can register in any language and it would protect the English equivalent.

      2- WGA protection is meaningless. US. Copyright registration is valid in every country that follows the various copyright treaties (which is most of them).

      Like

  16. Isah Abedini

    Thanks a ton for this info! I just finished a draft and had never even considered Copyright registration, thinking that the WGA protection would be all that I needed. I’m taking care of that tonight.

    Now I have a related question. When I work on a script, I will typically email myself a pdf of the work in progress at the end of each day. I do this as a backup, but would that be admissible in court? I’m not aware of a way to fake date stamps on gmail, wouldn’t that prove date of creation? Say for example, if my script were stolen after I have a “reasonable” first draft up to before I could click the submit button for the Copyright registration (I have a slow connection).

    Like

  17. Thank you for any other excellent article. The place else could anybody get that kind of info
    in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I am on the search for such info.

    Like

  18. What about when you’re writing a sequel to say Batman or Indiana Jones, how does one register their contributions without infringing on existing property?

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      You can’t write the sequel without infringing the existing property so don’t bother (unless they ask you to do it). Spend your time creating something of your own.

      Like

      • Tom

        I have written a script that has been adapted from a video game, I don’t claim the intellectual property as mine however the script and creative work that went into it is. Can I register this script with the copyright office.

        Like

      • Larry Zerner

        You may, but you have to disclaim any ownership in the prior material. You only own the material you created (dialogue and plot).

        Like

      • Larry Zerner

        You can register the script but you have to disclaim any ownership of the prior existing material and the copyright only covers new original material such as new characters, dialogue or plot

        Like

  19. Bobby

    Are you supposed to proclaim that the material is copyrighted on the script? I heard long ago that it should be on the front, bottom of page. Then, someone else told me recently that it’s a no no for serious writers.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      I’ve heard both ways. Technically, there are some legal advantages to placing the copyright notice on the cover page but it’s not fatal if you leave it off. For this one, you can do whichever you want.

      Like

  20. Larry,

    I just copied this from the US Copyright website:

    “Current processing times are:

    Processing Time for e-Filing: generally, 3 to 4-1/2 months

    Processing Time for Paper Forms: generally, 5 to 8 months

    Note: For works that are determined to be copyrightable and that meet all legal and procedural requirements for registration, the effective date of registration is the date the Copyright Office received the completed application, correct payment, and copy(ies) of the work being registered in acceptable form. You do not need to wait for a certificate to proceed with publication.”

    Does this mean I can market my work as soon as I do the correct filing with the Copyright office, even though I will have no documentation for several months? What do I state on the work? “Copyright Pending?”

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Yes. You can market as soon as you file the registration. And no, you don’t have to write “Copyright Pending.” Copyright exists at the time of creation of the work. It’s just the registration that’s pending, but no one needs to know that

      Like

      • Larry, thanks for the explanation. I was always a little fuzzy on the distinction between the automatic creation of a copyright by the act of writing the work, and the registration which facilitates future litigation if needed. Am I saying this right? Keep up the great work. Hopefully, I’ll need an entertainment lawyer in the near future! (my deceased bro-in-law was an entertainment attorney in Encino a while back).

        Like

  21. Normally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice post.

    Like

  22. Derek

    It is a cool thing for Larry to post like this then respond to so many people.

    Like

  23. The Girl

    The Library of Congress now has a new service called Pre-Registration costing about $110 in which you must officially copyright it some months after the known infringement or some months after publishing. Since this is a fairly new addition, I’d be very interested to know how Pre-registering with the Library of Congress would affect court cases in terms of being able to receive statutory damages and attorney fees IF, let’s say for example, a writer pre-registers his work, discovers infringement, and registers his work by copyrighting it in Library of Congress within the time frame required under the pre-registration rules. Would said writer then still be eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees as he would be under standard copyright laws? (Note: Pre-registration only allows for a summary of the work, not the whole work itself so let’s pretend for this example that the infringement can be proven just by the details within the summary alone that is “Pre-Registered” with Library of Congress. So, writers, that summary better be detailed enough to prove infringement!)

    I think this is a very important question that all writers AND lawyers should be aware of.

    I’m just considering ways to protect my work DURING the editing phase because writers show their work to many people to edit, but yet the writer doesn’t want to publicize their rough draft by copyrighting it yet since all registered copyrighted material are public. I wouldn’t want the public to see my rough drafts if you know what I mean. So, how else, can I protect it without it being public? I sure hope this new Pre-Registration service works.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      I can think of very few cases where it would be worth pre-registering as opposed to just registering the work. Maybe in the case of songs, where someone like Eminem is worried about a track being leaked before the album is out would it help. With scripts, they are not usually sent out until they are in good enough shape to be registered so it would not be a problem registering. Here is more information on Preregistration from the Copyright Office. http://www.copyright.gov/prereg/.

      Also, it’s not correct to say that if you register your work it is public. Only works that you register as a “published work” is public. Unpublished works are not public and can only be obtained from the copyright office under limited circumstances (e.g., there is a lawsuit involving the material).

      Like

      • The Girl

        Wow, thank you! Your correction of my incorrect words has practically solved my many years of dilemma! I had always assumed everything copyrighted with L.o.Congress was public and many years have put my work on hold until I figured out how to protect my work properly without my rough draft being public. I had no idea “unpublished” registrations would be non-public because the copyright states that ALL registered work is public. They should really re-word that! Wow, now I can finally protect my unpublished work and move forward with it after all these years! You have just made my day! I could just about give you a great big hug right about now!

        I have read ALL the info about Pre-registration on the L.O.Congress site, everything. But none of the info tells me whether my above hypothetical scenario would allow a writer to be eligible for statutory damages/attorney fees given all the pre-registration rules are followed, of course. Can you inform me when you find out? There’s probably not enough past case studies to go by to determine the answer since Pre-registration is a new addition. Please, please, let me know when you find out. Thank you!

        Like

      • Larry Zerner

        You can read more about when people can obtain access to unpublished but registered works here. In terms of preregistration – If you preregister and then are infringed, and then you REGISTER within one month of learning of the infringement (and no later than three months after publication), you can get your attorney’s fees and statutory damages. That’s the point of pre-registration.

        Like

      • The Girl

        I was hoping that was the answer but wanted to ask you to make sure. I’m soooo glad I found your site. Many times I re-iterate to other writers how registering with WGA doesn’t give the same protection, although I couldn’t remember why. I just remember reading it somewhere from a lawyer. Finally, now I have your site to refer people to when I talk about this! You explain it better. Thank you so much for creating this site!

        Like

      • The Girl

        I have read the link you gave me. There is one paragraph there that is separate from the limitations of obtaining “a copy” of the deposited work labeled:
        “Inspection of Copyright Office Records”
        This section states that copies deposited can be inspected during inspection hours. After more research, I came upon similar info at http://www.copyright.gov/compendium/1900.htm
        which states:
        1902.01 Completed records. All completed records and indexes relating to a registration or a rejection or to a recorded document, and all articles deposited in connection with completed registrations or rejections and retained under the control of the Copyright Office, are open to public inspection. See 17 U.S.C. 705. Before being permitted to inspect any deposit, however, the requester must (1) show proper photo identification, including a photograph and current address, and (2) complete and sign a “Request for Inspection of Copyright Deposit” (Form C-8), indicating agreement not to copy or deface the material to be inspected.”

        Does this mean anyone with a photo I.D. can “inspect” an entire script in-person that’s deposited? I understand that obtaining an actual “copy” of the script to keep is limited by authorization or litigation proceedings only, but inspecting the work seems like it has it’s own set of less strict limitations and is open to the public eyes. Am I understanding this correctly? Thank you.

        Like

  24. Anthony

    Mr. Zerner,

    With respect to the “one month after discovering the infringement, but no later than three months after publication” stipulation in US Copyright law. If the creator becomes aware of the infringement say…..6 months after publication, has the right to seek damages been lost, even if they meet the one-month stipulation?

    Thank You

    Like

  25. Anthony

    Also Mr. Zerner,

    Suppose you do meet the one-month stipulation, but the defendant claims you didn’t, which party bears the burden of proof?

    Additionally, does US Copyright law provide for punitive damages?

    Thank You

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      The one-month stipulation only applies when you pre-register which almost never going to happen with scripts. U.S. Copyright Law does not provide for punitive damages but it does provide for up to $150,000 in statutory damages for “willful” infringement which is pretty much the same thing.

      Like

  26. The Girl

    This is the WGAW’s reply to my email so they seem to now be letting people know that WGA registry doesn’t take the place of copyrighting:

    “Please be aware that registering work with the WGAW Registry does not take the place of registering with the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office. While both create legal evidence that can be used in court, we do not cover franchising. You may wish to refer to an attorney specializing in copyright or franchise law.”

    Like

  27. Eleven One

    If I have a script and I sent it in to the copyright office, got the certificate than realized that I made the mistake of putting an editor friend on as a creator (silly move) and that said editor signed a quit claim saying he wasn’t the creator, do I need to send in that quit claim as an amendment to the original copyright? Or does me having that document serve as enough protection.

    (I know this is a tiny bit off topic, really appreciate an answer though. Thank you.)

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      It depends on what you want to be protected from. If you are just worried about third parties who might infringe, then the quitclaim should be fine. If you are worried about your friend changing his mind, the quitclaim should be fine but amending the copyright certificate might be a little better. But only if there is litigation later.

      Like

    • Larry Zerner

      The quitclaim should be fine for now, but if you want to be extra special careful you can file an amendment with the copyright office

      Like

  28. Deborah

    Thanks for this EXCELLENT blog! I just reviewed pre-registration at Copyright.gov as my written story is unfinished, and it seems it costs more to file a pre-regitration than to register before finished and then re-register! Did I read this wrong? Also, will copyright protection cover the animated characters/drawings I have created for the story? Thank you for your time, Mr. Zerner. I hope you get LOTS of clients for sharing your expertise in this blog!

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Copyright protection will cover the animated characters/drawings if they are included in the submission. As for pre-registration, that’s really only necessary when there is a chance that there could be infringement before you start submitting the materials. It really applies to things like music tracks that could be leaked before they are properly released. I would not recommend spending the extra money on pre-registration. I would just tell you to register the material when you begin submitting the story to other people.

      Like

      • The Girl

        The question that Deborah was asking is the same question I’ve been trying to figure out, too. I have emailed several attorneys and even asked a copyright attorney in-person and NONE of them could answer the question or they just didn’t understand the question or pretended to not understand because they didn’t know the answer, I’m not sure which except that NO attorney can give me a straight answer that they are 100% sure about. The question that me and Deborah would like to know if you could find out for us is…

        (Let’s use this example for this question: I wrote/completed a story on 1/1/2014 and have not shown ANYbody until 4/1/2014 in which I publish it on 4/1 then someone steals my story on 5/1/2014 so I have to sue.)

        What’s the difference between the two options below (with the Library of Congress) which seem to have the same outcome/result/protection at the very end of the litigation except that one cost more in total:

        1. Jan. 1 – I pre-register the unpublished story for $140.
        April 2 – I register the “published” story on 4/2 for $35 a day after I publish it.
        Grand total=$175

        2. Jan. 1 – I register the unpublished story for $35.
        April 2 – I register the “published” story again for $35 a day after I publish it.
        Grand total=$70

        Like

  29. Larry Zerner

    With regard to the two scenarios, the second scenario would never occur. Once you registered the work unpublished on Jan 1, there is no need or requirement to register the published version so long as the versions are pretty much the same.

    And there would be no need to preregister in scenario #1 because as long as you register PRIOR to the infringement OR within 90 days of first publication, you’re fine. The ONLY time that preregistration would help is if someone infringed BEFORE it was published. But because no one would have access to the story before it was published, preregistration would be a waste of money.

    Like

    • The Girl

      Sorry, I made a mistake with my above scenario. I had a feeling I was bound to make a mistake with my question because this is such a precise question with so many details, it’s hard to explain. Please allow me to correct the above scenario…

      (Let’s use this example instead: I wrote/completed a story on 1/1/2014 and have shown people the story in February. Then I register AND publish a REVISED version of it on 4/1 then someone steals my story on 5/1/2014 so I have to sue.)

      What’s the difference between the two options below (with the Library of Congress) which seem to have the same outcome/result/protection at the very end of the litigation except that one cost more in total:

      1. Jan. 1 – I pre-register the unpublished story for $140.
      Feb. – I show my story to agents and for feedback.
      April 1 – I register and publish a revised version on 4/2 for $35.
      Grand total=$175

      2. 1. Jan. 1 – I register the unpublished story for $35.
      Feb. – I show my story to agents and for feedback.
      April 1 – I register and publish a revised version on 4/2 for $35.
      Grand total=$70
      —————————
      Please help with the answer. I’ve almost given up trying to find this answer after asking several attorneys and reading EVERYTHING about preregistration on the L.O.Congress site. I just cannot understand why someone in the above scenario would even use option 1 when they could do the same thing with option 2 for less money.

      Like

      • Larry Zerner

        No one would use Scenario #1. Preregistration is done for works just as albums or movies, where it’s possible there is infringement before the product is released and there are many people working on it. You would just never use preregistration for a story written by one person.

        Like

  30. Thorton

    Myself and two other friends were in the process of creating, writing, and pitching a show…that didn’t happen. Only a collective 5 minute pitch, and a 10 minute short episode script which I exclusively wrote came out of it. I’m planning on writing the pilot script…so I’m assuming I’m the only one that should register since the other parties are no longer a part of the project?

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Well, you should make sure that your two friends don’t think that they are co-owners of your script, or you might have some difficult moments later.

      Like

  31. Greg Quinn

    What others have said – very nice writeup – thanks for doing it, Larry. Like many newby writers, around ten years back I used WGA to register several screenplays. 5 years ain’t that long a time for a screenplay and their registrations expired. Essentially it’s not just a question of extra protection in copyrighting, there’s also the question of access. WGA isn’t a willing participant to disputes over ownership, my understanding is that you’d need to subpoena them to verify screenplay registration. Their process should absolutely be shut down; I can’t imagine many professionals using it except as some kind of stopgap measure, but I can tell you that many newbies do.

    Like

  32. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative.
    I’m going to watch out for brussels. I will appreciate
    if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

    Like

  33. Fabulous Post. Thanks for publishing this, it is very clearly written. I would keep coming back for more posts from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Dan

    Is TV Writers Vault a good avenue for pitching a reality show to professionals one would not otherwise have access to? Of course, after the idea is registered with the Copyright Office. Or is TV Writers Vault a scam? Thanks a lot, Dan

    Like

  35. Dmitry

    Thanks a lot, Larry, for your article and additional comments and replies. It helps a lot in clarifying things in this no small matter. Frankly, a bit surprised by the transpiring WGA’s ways -:).

    Like

  36. Pingback: How To Copyright A Screenplay | Daily Shard

  37. Fawn

    I’m glad I read this before officially registering my screenplay. I almost went with WGA. Now I know it’s worth the hassle to file with eCO. Thank you Larry!
    I only have one question – I’m from Canada. Am I fully protected worldwide or only within the US if I registered with eCO?

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      No one is really fully protected worldwide because every country has it’s own copyright laws which may or may not be enforced. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office gives you benefits if you have to sue in the U.S. It won’t help you anywhere else.

      Like

  38. joe man

    I got SCREWED by using the WGA they ‘lost my registration’ and the sucky film theat stole it screwed it totally up and made nothing and I couldn’t bleed wine from a bomb.

    Like

  39. Pingback: Podcast Ep. 18 – Micro-Budget Exploitation Horror II: The Revenge

  40. Pingback: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT REGISTERING A SCREENPLAY WITH THE U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE | Copyrights and Wrongs

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