How to Register a Script with the Copyright Office Step-by-Step

People often tell me that they find the procedure for registering scripts with the Copyright Office to be confusing.  I certainly agree that the procedure is not as straightforward as it could be.  But to make it alleviate this confusion, this post will explain, with screen grabs from each step of the procedure, how to register your script.

UPDATE: I’ve put up a video showing how to register a screenplay.  You can watch it here.

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That’s it.  See, it’s not so hard.  This example will work for most script copyright registrations.  However, pay attention. You may have some answers that are different. If so, it shouldn’t be so hard that you can’t figure out the changes to make.

If you are having trouble viewing the page, you can download the slides as a PowerPoint here. How to Register a Script with the Copyright Office

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51 Comments

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51 responses to “How to Register a Script with the Copyright Office Step-by-Step

  1. justine

    Can you tell me what the proper outline is for indicating that your script (screenplay) has a copyright? Where does it go on the title page of the script? Does it follow or precede the year it was registered? Does it accompany the writer’s name or writer’s company (if applicable)?

    Please advise.
    Thank you kindly

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      All scripts are protected by copyright, whether or not they are registered. The registration gives the writer legal advantages in court. Assuming that the copyright owners are the writers, and the writers names are on the script, then I would just put “Copyright 2011” or “© 2011” under the contact information. But even without a copyright notice you are fully protected if you are registered. I would also recommend the book “The Hollywood Standard” for questions about proper industry script format.

      Like

  2. Amanda

    If your script has been published online as part of a contest and is accessible to anyone who registers at the Web site, does that qualify as a “Yes” answer to “Has this work been published?”

    Like

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  4. Hi. Thanks for the information, very useful.
    For screenplays, do I ned to upload a PDF AND send a printed copy? Or it’s OK if I just upload the PDF?

    Thanks.

    Like

  5. Maria

    Hi Larry!
    I find all information provided by you extremely informative especially for new comers – Thanks a lot!
    If the screenplay was sent to participate in a competition, would you recommend prior Copyright registration?

    Like

  6. Pingback: New Video: How to Register a Screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office. | Copyrights and Wrongs

  7. There is definately a great deal to find out about this topic.
    I like all of the points you have made.

    Like

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    Like

  9. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I
    find this matter to be really something which I think I
    would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad
    for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang
    of it!

    Like

  10. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally,
    it seems as though you relied on the video to make
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    just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something
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    Like

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    Like

  13. Incredible points. Solid arguments. Keep up
    the great spirit.

    Like

  14. murray37

    Does this apply for writer’s working outside the USA as well or should those writers apply under their own country instead?

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      It only applies to writers outside the USA if they want to sue in the USA. So, if you think there might be a US infringement, it couldn’t hurt to have a US registration (even if not technically required).

      Like

  15. Igor

    I think your site is great. Lots of helpful info.

    But as for your answer to Amanda about “publication”. Really? If an article at the Wall St. Journal website is accessible only behind its pay-wall to registered subscribers, then it wouldn’t be “published”?

    I realize you necessarily have to simplify and condense your posts here, so maybe this is one of those nuanced areas of copyright law. But from a layperson’s POV, it does seem odd that a pdf on a website, that’s available to anyone who registers at the site, is not “published”.

    Like

  16. Dave

    Hello,

    Can I register my website(logos,image,scripts) for copyright?
    Note:I am not a US resident

    Like

  17. Hi. At first thank you for your information!
    I have a question: do you think is better put a couple of synopsis pages at beginning of screeplay to protect the idea too?
    Thank you very much.

    Stefano

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Under U.S. Copyright Law, you can’t protect the “idea,” only the expression of that idea. So putting the synopsis at the beginning of the screenplay does nothing to give you greater protection of the screenplay itself since the plot and the idea are already incorporated in the screenplay.

      Like

  18. Andrea

    HI thank you for being so helpful, In my case, I have one script printed with some notes. Unfortunately I lost the digital copy, Could I just upload a scan copy of what I have?

    Like

  19. Great information. You made this process smooth as silk! Thanks!

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      It’s 3-5 months typically. But you don’t have to wait for the certificate. It will be dated on the date they received the materials.

      Like

  20. starwars404

    What would you say is the wait between the submission of your script to be copyrighted and the time you’re notified that it is copyrighted? A friend of mine said it could take a few months or so.

    Like

  21. I live in Japan but my sister lives in Ca. Can I have the certificate sent to her?

    Like

  22. Larry Zerner

    Great. But there is no need to also register with the WGA

    Like

  23. Kathryn

    I originally completed my screenplay in 2010, put it away for 3 years, and for the last two years have made some changes, such as moving scenes, deleting scenes, grammar correction. Now I’m done and about to go on to my second screenplay. when I copyright it, do I use the original creation date of May 2010 or the date of final draft, which is August, 2016??

    Like

  24. brandon

    i did not see a space to upload my pdf. Did I only pay to copyright the title? I am a little concerned.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      Brandon,

      Something screwed up. You should sign back in and see if you can find the message to upload the script. If you can’t, call the copyright office and someone there will walk you through what to do.

      Larry

      Like

      • Hello Larry, thanks so much for all the great info, it’s very informative! I too run into the same issue where I was never prompted to UPLOAD the script itself. I’m actually on hold with the copyright office as I type this comment. I really think they don’t make it easy to register your script, it looks like an archaic system!

        Like

  25. hmblanc

    Hi. Great guide. But what about co-written materials? Is there an option for more than one copyright holder?

    Like

  26. Mark

    Hey Larry, thanks for the concise info.

    I live in Ireland (Republic of) tough I’m not Irish and English is not my first language, so sorry my bad English.

    In the official Irish Patents Office (which also regulates Copyrights) website https://www.patentsoffice.ie/en/Copyright/Copyright-Protection/

    There is a clear statement: “In Ireland, there is no registration procedure for owners of a copyright work.”

    Also they say: “It is most important that the originator of a work can show subsequently when the work and the consequential copyright were created as it may be necessary to commence or defend infringement proceedings, at some later stage. One way of doing this is to deposit a copy of the work with an acknowledged representative who may be a bank or solicitor in such a way as to allow the date and time of the deposit to be recorded or notarised. Alternatively, one may send a copy of the work to oneself by registered post (ensuring a clear date stamp on the envelope), retaining the original receipt of posting and leaving the envelope containing the copyright work unopened thus establishing that the work existed at that date and time.”

    So Cleary they say the practice of the “Poor Man’s Copyright.” Is officially valid in Ireland, my question is:

    I have a finished work and I’m ready to send to producers and agents of course all of them in the United States what level of protection do you think I would have? If something goes south can I sue copyrights infringement in Ireland based on the Irish laws, or should I seek for protection in US as well, as per registering in the US Copyright Office?

    Thanks so much for reading and keep up with the fantastic informative work.
    Mark.

    Like

    • Larry Zerner

      If you think you will only be filing a lawsuit in Ireland or the EU then you do not need to register in the U.S. But if you think that there is a chance that you would file in the U.S., then it’s better to have the U.S. filing so you can get attorney’s fees.

      Like

      • Mark

        Hey Again Larry, sorry but only today I received a notification of a new post here (from Joe below) I did not see your reply before.
        Thanks so much! That put me in another situation, Can I file a lawsuit in EU against a US resident Producer or Agency?

        Thanks again, I second Joe, If I ever need advice I’ll look you up.
        Mark.

        Like

  27. Joe Pace

    Thank You Larry. I appreciate you doing this. If I ever need advice I’ll look you up. Joe

    Like

  28. Larry Zerner

    Mark, you would need to ask an attorney in the EU on whether you can sue a US producer there.

    Like

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