After all those hardworking long hours spent creating and nurturing your screenplay, it is finally complete! The feeling of elation takes over, but don’t throw your paper in the air… just yet!
We know this is the last thing on your mind right now, but before you move on to distributing your script to writing communities, consultants, friends and competitions you should have a think about how to protect your script and your ownership rights.
This article will help you gain an understanding of script registration and copyright laws in the UK and internationally.
- Jump To Section
- What is script registration?
- UK copyright law FAST facts
- International copyright laws
- A step-by-step guide on how to register your script in the USA
- Why should I register my scripts?
- What can be protected?
- What does Screenwriters Network do with my script?
- Other script registration methods
UNDERSTANDING SCRIPT REGISTRATION
What is Script Registration?
Script registration is when a third party can verify that the script has been written by you.
Often many screenwriters find their ideas stolen by friends, strangers or even production companies! Script registration provides recognition of ownership at the time of your registration.
If you were to ever make a copyright dispute in court, we or another third party would appear and provide evidence for you.
Screenwriters often seek to register their scripts as it provides the following benefits:
Once your script is registered by us or another company, we will save your work and provide evidence in a court of law about the date of your ownership.
Your screenplay will be stored away in a safe place and you can have peace of mind knowing that you have a backup – even if your computer explodes!
Screenwriters Network saves your script as an encrypted file on a password protected hard drive in our office. Your screenplay is safe with us.
After registration has taken place, we issue each of our customers with a unique protection stamp to put on their screenplay.
Copyright law in the UK and many other countries declare that the creator gets copyright protection automatically when the work is produced. There is no register of copyrighted works in the UK.
SCRIPT REGISTRATION UK
UK Copyright Law FAST Facts
- You automatically own the rights to your original screenplay and have copyright protection from the point a physical document is produced. The artist owns that work legally up until 70 years after their death.
- You are more than welcome to add the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation to your work for peace of mind, however this does not affect the level of protection you have.
- Copyright even prevents others from distributing your work without your permission, even if this is free of charge.
For more information with regards to UK copyright law, please click here.
INTERNATIONAL SCRIPT REGISTRATION
International Copyright Laws
Copyright laws are different in each country you go to. Broadly, most of the countries in the world have very similar laws to the UK.
If you want to find and read the laws of your country in more detail, you can view them here.
On the map below you can see all the countries that follow the Berne Convention. The Berne Convention is an international agreement governing copyright which was first accepted in Berne, Switzerland.
This states by law that all works (including screenplays) are copyrighted the moment they are “fixed” (complete).
But don’t kickback and start sending your script out willy-nilly…
UNCONVENTIONAL COPYRIGHT LAWS
Countries That Aren’t a Part of the Berne Convention
- Marshall Islands
- Myanmar (Burma)
- North Korea
- Papua New Guinea
- San Marino
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- South Sudan
REGISTRATION & COPYRIGHT
Copyright Laws in the United States & Turkey
Although a part of the Berne Convention, there are some slight legal caveats with the United States and Turkey.
You are not able to make a copyright dispute or claim in a court of law if you have not registered your script with the copyright office.
If you’re thinking what we’re thinking, yes, it is strange that you ‘own’ your work but have to pay your government to make any sort of legal disputes. However, that is the way it is!
EXTRA LEGAL PROTECTION
A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Register Your Script in the USA
If you are still unsure, please seek legal advice from your government websites if you want to register your scripts:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
(202) 707-3000 or
1 (877) 476-0778 (toll-free)
THE PRO’S & CON’S
Why Should I Register my Scripts?
Script registration will help if you encounter any disputes where others claim your screenplay as their own work.
Unfortunately, it can be exceedingly difficult to prove a case of copyright infringement, and who the work was originally created by, especially as most screenwriters write solo.
- Extra protection – There is that extra party vouching for you if you ever need them to.
- Additional copies – If your computer breaks or you accidentally delete your script file, you can request for the third-party company to send you your script.
- Keeps a record – Your script is recorded, dated, stamped, and validated by someone else.
- Deters ‘artists’ from stealing your work – Once you display a registration number or protection stamp on your script, it warns those idea-thieves that this work has been registered and is therefore proven to be owned by you with extra-legal evidence.
- Cost – This is an extra cost, and it also can be quite costly when you’re factoring in registering multiple scripts.
- Guarantee – Registering your script with a third-party company doesn’t guarantee that you will be safe from Copyright crime.
- Renewal – MOST (not all) companies’ script registrations will only last for a certain period, so you will have to remember to renew your script registrations.
FORMS OF REGISTRATION
What Can be Protected?
Everything that you produce in a physical form can be protected. This can be in a hard copy (printed) or soft copy (digital file) form.
At SWN we accept only soft copy documents of screenplays, but if you’re writing a screenplay or a poem, it’s definitely something to look into for that reassurance.
OUR PERSONAL PROCESS
What Does Screenwriters Network do With my Script?
At Screenwriters’ Network, our procedure is that your script will be saved as an encrypted file on a password protected hard drive. It will remain there indefinitely until you request for your file to be deleted.
We then issue a unique protection stamp and number so the artist can attach this to the bottom of their script to warn off anyone scheming to steal your great idea.
Click here to find out more information about our script registration.
Ensure you check a company’s policy regarding how long they keep your script on file, as more often than not, there will be a time frame and after this point the third-party will delete your screenplay from their archives, unless you renew the registration.
Screenwriters Network keeps your script on file indefinitely*
Security and Peace of Mind
Accidentally deleted your script file from your computer? Having your script saved with a third party will mean we/they are able to send to you a copy on request. Most reputable companies will request some form of identification before sending it across to you.
Other Script Registration Methods (Not to be Substituted for Copyright or Online Registration)
Poor Man’s Copyright
If you do not wish to register your screenplay, then you can use the ‘poor man’s copyright method’, and this is using registered stamps by the local postal service.
Email to a Friend
You could also send your script via email to someone that you deeply trust to save on their devices. This is all depending on whether there is anyone in the world that you feel you could trust with your precious blood, sweat and tears in the form of a screenplay.
Alternatively, you can create an email yourself and send it to that address!
Be Wary of Scammers
Another thing to be mindful of is when distributing your script to the right third-party companies for their services. Whether it be script registration, competitions, or consultancy, just check how your script is stored and what their company policy is to ensure your information is fully protected and safe.
There are many ‘copyrighting services’ online, which aren’t doing anything but registering your work (if that).
No third-party can copyright your script as most countries in the world follow the Berne Convention. Which makes this service impossible and very misleading… not to mention scammy!
If a website promises you that they can copyright protect your work and the URL doesn’t end in .gov, you can be sure it’s a scam!
Script registration is not a necessity but beneficial for extra protection. Researching into your countries copyright laws is highly recommended.
Script registration will however provide a safety net if you wish to reclaim your screenplay after misplacing it and it will also mean you have a third-party vouching for you in a case of copyright infringement.
Do your research and do what you think is best to protect your precious work!
You can always register your script with Screenwriters Network. We’ve got you covered.
Disclaimer – This is blog is only to be used for informational purposes and this is not legal advice.
Jessica is an industry screenwriting agent, dedicated to furthering writers’ careers. Her contacts expand to companies such as Vertigo, Aardman, Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers and Netflix.