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How do I Copyright a Script?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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To a writer, a script or screenplay may be just as valuable as a luxury car. Just as a person purchases alarm systems to protect valuable objects from theft, so, too, do writers try to protect their written property with a copyright. Finding out how to copyright a script is an important part of securing the protection of a created work.

Many regions have government offices that handle the registration and copyrights for written material. Getting a copyright from a government organization may be as simple as filling out a form, paying a fee, and sending a copy to the organization for records. Deciding to copyright a script with a government agency is generally one of the most often recommended forms of protection, as federal agencies are usually considered reliable sources in court.

A government copyright office provides a record that the script was submitted by a certain author on a certain date. In many regions, the ability to copyright a script is an inherent individual right granted to the author, therefore the author has the copyright on all original material with or without official registration. Rather than allowing an author to copyright the script, what a registration office does is provide corroborating evidence of the date, time, and version of the script in case of a legal challenge to the copyright.

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In the United States, scripts can be registered online or by mail for copyright purposes with the Library of Congress. In the United Kingdom, the same service is provided by the Intellectual Property Office. Canada uses a similar organization called the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. To copyright a script in any country, simply look up the governmental copyright agency.

Since a copyright is generally inherent under common law and registration serves only as a legal record, some third party businesses and organizations may be able to provide similar services to government offices. Writer's organizations, such as the Writer's Guild of America, allow script registration through their regional offices. The process for obtaining registration is generally the same as offered by other groups, though some experts recommend getting both a government and a third-party registration for the sake of legal redundancy. To copyright a script with a third-party company, call regional guild offices or simply search for "script copyright" on the Internet.

It is important to remember when trying to copyright a script that registration, and even copyrights, may be subject to statutes of limitation. In some cases, copyrights are only good for a certain amount of years after the original author dies, after which the work reverts to the public domain. Registration services may require periodic reapplication to keep records current, usually every five to ten years.

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donasmrs
Post 3

@bear78-- I can't imagine a country without some kind of copyright office or agency. I'm sure there is some organization where you can copyright your work. As for the fees, they're usually not a lot. If you are intending on selling your work, the copyright fee is certainly worth it.

Let's say none of this is possible. You could mail the script to yourself through the post office and retain it as evidence in case your work is stolen and you need to prove it in court. As long as the mailed script envelope isn't opened and there is an official stamped date on there, it should work.

This is really not the best way though. If you can get a copyright, that's the best way to protect your work.

bear78
Post 2

What if I can't afford the fees for copyright registration? Or what if I'm in a country where there isn't a government agency that deals with this? Is there any other way to protect a script?

turquoise
Post 1

I'm not sure if government copyright registration has an expiration date, but I believe that private copyright agencies do. The time frame is usually a few years and after the expiration date is reached, a fee has to be paid again to extend it.

This may be a problem if a writer gets a copyright but forgets to extend it and the work is stolen or used in that time frame.

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