You’ve typed your screenplay for so long, that your fingertips have turned blue, bruised and bleeding. Your hair has gone grey. You have even more squinty lines around your eyes than you did prior to this monumental effort. All this, and you have to ask how much does it cost to copyright a script –“cost” – has if there is any amount too high to pay to protect your script? How can you think about money at a time like this!?
Gather round and let me tell you the story of the writer who wrote a script and wanted to copyright their script for the least amount of money required, with the maximum protection.But first, let’s get some URBAN LEGENDS out of the way once and for all.
- MYTH #1: “Poor man’s copyright.” Print your script. Stuff it in a self-addressed-stamped-envelope and mail it. When you receive the envelope, be sure to never open the package as this will break the seal – that seal is CRUCIAL. You’re relying on the postmark to have your back as proof you wrote the script prior to such and such date. You are in the clear, script fully protected by the highest powers in the universe.
- FACT: If you’re living in 1863, sure. But in modern times – nope, sorry. This is not going to hold up in a court of law. Of course, it would make a great scene wouldn’t it? Can’t you see yourself on the prosecution, ripping that envelope open and – “Tada! I present to the court my script, which has been hermetically sealed away in this envelope for years – how long? When you see the postmark, it will amaze you!” Dramatic.
- MYTH #2: Register your script with the WGA. Go to their website (WGAEast or WGAWest, the coastal branch is entirely your prerogative), fill out the online registration form, upload an electronic file of your script, and pay the cost of registration. How much does it cost to copyright a script with the WGA? Twenty dollars (Ten dollars for current members). Your script will be on file for 5-10 years (depending on the branch you register), upon which you can renew registration. Baada-Bing Bada-boom, done. Your script is impenetrable. The WGA even dons your script in an iron-clad breast plate over the title page – it is now and forever will be (presuming you continue to send your dues upon renewal), protected from theft and related shenanigans.
- FACT: Not. Is it quick? Yep. Is it easy? Uh huh. Is it cheap? Yeah. Does it copyright your script? No. Unless you see the WGA as the be-all end-all of copyright law in the United States. Which… <hint> <hint> <elbow to your rib> the United States doesn’t. The WGA is very clear about this on their website, saying: “Registering your work with the WGAW Registry does not take the place of registering with the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office.”
So… Now that we’ve debunked the two most popular, albeit incorrect methods of protecting your script from thievery, what can you do? Can you copyright a screenplay? Or is this entire article a waste of time?
Shush… my pretties, we’re getting to the meat and gluten-free potatoes part.
How Much Does it Cost to Copyright your Script?
While registering your script with the WGA establishes a public chain of authorship, it won’t do much good in the courts. To fully protect yourself, you must copyright your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Registration of script copyright online:
- Single Application (single author/one work/not for hire): $35
- Standard Application (all other filings): $55
Registration of script copyright paper:
- Paper filing: $85
More importantly, here’s how to do it…
How to Copyright a Script Online with the U.S. Copyright Office
- Write the script. Oh! You’ve already done that, congrats!
- Complete the “Visual Arts – form PA” online here (it’s in the lower right-hand side of the page).
- File online (faster turnaround) or print the form and mail your check and one copy of your screenplay (longer turnaround).
- If the latter, snail mail the package to:
Library of Congress Copyright Office-VA101
Independence Avenue SE Washington, DC 20559
How Long Does a Script Copyright Last?
When registering your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office, your script is protected for your ENTIRE life, plus 70 years. Long enough, eh? The nice thing about copyrighting your script the proper way (ahem, the only way), is that it’s cheaper than renewing registration fees every 5-10 years with the WGA.
How Long Does it Take to Copyright my Screenplay?
You’ll need to print the form online and send off your script. While this may take you only ten minutes of your life, who the hell knows what’s happening on the other end in Washington. Helllllooooo! This is the Federal Government, so it could take weeks/months/years/and then some.
- Processing time for e-filing is about 8 months.
- Processing time for paper filing is up to 13 months.
Don’t worry, once you send off your copyright application and the package is received by the U.S. Copyright office, you’re good. The office date-stamps the incoming requests, and once accepted, your script’s copyright will apply retroactively to the date received.
One day, when you peek inside your mailbox, the wait will all be worth it. After your movie script copyright has been processed, you will receive a stunning official certificate of acceptance. You can put it on your office wall next to your Harvard Diploma in Astrophysics with a Minor in Musicology.
You’ve Copyrighted your Movie Script and Someone Stole your Work – Now What?
If a phone call and meeting fails, and you’re in the unpleasant position of having to sue another party, you can seek statutory damages and reimbursement of all legal fees incurred in court proceedings.
NOW… If you have reason to believe that this thievery was deliberate – and you have proof – you may receive additional compensation.
Did you Ever Notice these Script Copyrights on the Title Page?
Putting a “WGA registered” number on your script’s title page sometimes reeks amaeteur hour – pee-yew! But could putting a copyright notice be valuable? Sure. Remember the bit mentioned earlier about receiving additional compensation if your work was deliberately stolen? Yeah. So if you put your Copyright registration number on your title page, then anyone who receives such copy will not be able to claim he was unaware that the script was protected.
After you Copyright your Movie Script…
Take a breath. Chances are no one is conniving to steal your script out from under you. Feel good that you did everything in your power to properly copyright your screenplay. And move on… Write your next script. You know how much it will cost to copyright a script – not much!
This isn’t to say ideas aren’t valuable. A writer’s best asset is his ideas. While you cannot copyright a screenplay idea, you can copyright your execution of the idea.
Written by: Mich Medvedoff