A reader asks the following question about copyright registrations:
“If someone who registers a script, and then makes minor changes in the wording of certain scenes, for example, would have to re-register the script again in order for the most recent revision to be protected. Or, if the original registration would offer adequate protection since nothing major in the script has changed, even if it undergoes several more minor revisions?
The question of when to re-register a screenplay with the copyright office comes up frequently. Scripts are constantly being rewritten, and, at $35 a pop, one doesn’t want to have to keep paying to protect the same work. So when should you re-register an updated version of the screenplay?
The answer looks to the reasons that you registered your screenplay with the Copyright office in the first place. The two main reasons to register are 1) to establish a date of creation of your screenplay and 2) to obtain the added legal protection that comes from registration. If you never sue anyone for infringement of your screenplay (and no one ever sues you claiming the screenplay was stolen from them), it’s not going to make a difference whether just an early draft of the screenplay was registered. But if you ever sue someone for infringing your screenplay, it might become an issue as to which version was registered.
Simply as an evidentiary matter, it helps if the registered version of the screenplay is the same as or very close to, the version that the alleged infringer saw. In these script infringement cases, the infringer is never copying the script verbatim anyway. So it certainly helps if you can prove that the infringed version of the script was registered. That doesn’t mean that it has to be identical. If you are simply making simple edits, cleaning up grammar, or adding a few lines of dialogue here and there, then a new registration is not necessary.
But when the changes become more substantial such as 1) important characters being added, 2) major changes to the story, or 3) major dialogue revisions. In these cases, then the revised screenplay should be registered. What constitutes a major change? That’s going to be up to your judgment. But I would say that if 20% to 30% of your script is changed, a new registration couldn’t hurt.
And remember, when registering the revised screenplay, you will be asked to limit your claim, because the screenplay contains previously registered material. Look at the screen capture below.
When you get to that page of the registration, under “Material Excluded” type “Original Screenplay” in the “Other” box. Under “Previous Regisration,” enter the copyright registration number for the original screenplay and the year of registration. Then, under “New Material Included” type what the new material contains in the “Other” box. Some things to put in the box would be “New third act” or “Major editorial revisions” or “Complete rewrite or original screenplay.” As long as it is clear what is being added.
Good luck and keep writing.