Screenwriting : Question: When you register a screenplay through WGA or similar, what does it really mean? by Dale Luckwitz

Dale Luckwitz

Question: When you register a screenplay through WGA or similar, what does it really mean?

I've registered screenplays with the WGA before submitting for festivals and competitions. How necessary is this? Also, when you register a screenplay and get a guild registration number, is it registering the exact script or overall concept? In other words, if I register a script with the WGA or other place and then make edits, introduce a new character, etc., is it still registered if the concept remains the same? What if I change the title of the movie after I register? Is that registration number still valid?

E.C. Romero

ALWAYS REGISTER. It protects you from people stealing your ideas. The difference between copyright and WGA registration is that if you enter into a lawsuit and your work is copyrighted then they have to pay your attorney's fees if you win. With WGA registration in a similar scenario your attorney's fees would not be paid. If you make ANY changes you need to re-register. The registration number will be valid for that particular draft of the script and not the new one. When you register again you will get a new number. Also, I just want to mention, I learned this recently in a writing class at UCLA, my professor who is a writer told me pitches should be registered. I didn't know pitches could be registered, but they fall under IP, so when you send out a written pitch, that should be protected as well. Hope this helps.

Dan MaxXx

nobody cares about WGA registration. They are a private labor union. Just do U.S. copyright

Dale Luckwitz

Thanks, E.C. and Dan -- two different takes on the same idea, but both appreciated.

Dan Guardino

E.C. Someone has been feeding you some wrong information. Ideas are not protected under copyright laws. The only possible way you could protect and idea is by generating a contract and if there is a dispute you a party could sue for breach of contract.

You only have to re-register a screenplay if you make some significant changes to it. You can register your pitches but it would zero protection so it would be a waste of money.

Doug Nelson

Not much.

Dan Guardino

Dale. It is better to register with the LOC vs the WGA for a lot of reason. WGA only last for about 5 years and you would have to register. If you only register with the WGA and win you may not be entitled to. Registering with the LOC will last seventy years after the last surviving author’s death and be awarded attorney fees or statutory damages.

Registering only protects the authors written words. In other words how they tell their story. It does not protect the concept. You would only have to re-register a screenplay if the changes were fairly significant. Titles are not protected under copyright so you can change the title and not have to re-register.

Dale Luckwitz

Thanks, Dan. Honestly WGA was a bit of laziness on my part. I format using Final Draft software and there's a quick one-button registration option with WGA or EGA, so up against a deadline I clicked and ran!

Dan Guardino

Dale. You’re welcome. My Agent wants me to register my screenplay with both the WGA and the LoC for some reason. One of these days I'll have to ask her why.

Hans Nielsen

WGA doesn't mean much at all. US Copyright is much better.

Craig D Griffiths

It points to a time and date that says your work come into being. External source rather then just you. You still have to defend your copyright. It is possible (in a legal context) that something can slip common language and this could threaten you claim for copyright.

But that is far beyond your question.

William Martell

As others have said: WGA is 5 years, Copyright is your life plus 70 years. And better protection.

Angela VanZandt-Bumpass

US Copyright is more solid and will be with this country forever. They have a new rule that one can register up to 10 screenplays at once for $85. Never let one out of your hands without a copyright. Do not tell anyone your story or your premise unless it is in a professional setting. Resist the urge.

CJ Walley

Some confusion here.

The key benefit of an LoC claim registered before the infringement has occurs is that you're entitled to receive attorney’s fees and statutory damages, the latter of which can be up to $150,000. That means any screenwriter, regardless of their financial situation, should be able to employ a lawyer on a contingency fee basis, providing they feel the case is a strong one.

WGA Registration, and a lot of services like it, are still proof but they don't come with the statutory damages benefit, meaning a screenwriter would most likely have to hire a lawyer at cost and at the risk the received compensation would be less than the legal fees.

LoC is a no-brainer, sometimes required as part of a spec sale, and should be done as soon as possible, as the release date of a movie made from a stolen script is not considered the infringement date. The other registrations are just gravy; additional legal records that often come at low-cost. WGA members only have to pay $10 to register/renew their claim.

In addition to this, please also understand that, while the US is a member of The Bern Convention (an international agreement governing copyright that deems copyright exists the moment a work is "fixed"), it still makes statutory damages and attorney's fees only available for registered works.

Kat Rollinson

I am in the UK, and the rules seem a little different here - per UK Copyright Law, copyright is created when a creator has written, designed or drawn something in some physical form. Nevertheless, I would not advise sharing content without registering with a 3rd party (e.g. Script Vault), as registering would make it much easier to prove any infringement. Script Vault only lasts for 10 years though - having seen the above post, I will now see if other, longer-term options would be better.

E.C. Romero

Hi Dale, I understand the frustration of re registering your screenplay, I've had to do that many times with my screenplays. I just finished another re write and once I'm done, I'm going to have to do it again. I'm one of those people who register and copyright. Why? Because it's industry standard and it's maximum protection. Why would you want to go through all of the trouble of writing a screenplay to not protect it?

I have a coach and I currently study at UCLA. My coach has made over a billion dollars in box office sales and before he became a producer he was an attorney. He is always telling us to register. My professor at UCLA has sold over 60 screenplays and he tells me not to send out anything unless it is registered. People stealing IPs happens. You can take my advice or take someone else's advice, but the reason why I'm telling you don't listen to people who tell you not to register is because you want to always consider your source. You wouldn't want to listen to people who tell you not to register and they have never sold a screenplay.

My sources are reputable and have made many movies. They work consistently in this industry and if people with that kind of experience are telling you to do something, you are only hurting yourself if you don't.

Dan Guardino

E.C. I agree with everything you are saying except you don’t need to re-register your screenplay every time you make minor changes. The reason I am saying that is because copyright protects your written words and if you make minor changes the written words in your previous version are still protected. However if someone makes a lot of changes then it might be worth re registering the screenplay.

Sam Foster

I was advised to always register work with the US Copyright Office, even though I am in Spain. I have changed a few scenes in my scripts since registering but nothing that will make drastic changes as the title, story, characters and concept have all stayed the same.

E. Lamoreaux

I often register my scripts as soon as I finish them, although I recently switched from WGA West to WGA East as the latter gives a longer duration period (10 years instead of 5). Still, registration doesn't protect your script but rather gives recordable proof of its creation. This is why some script services don't require you to register a script when you upload it, preferring a copyright application instead.

On that note, only a few of my scripts are copyrighted and that's because I used ScreenCraft’s registration service for all cases and the filing fee is quite pricey. It probably would be cheaper if I registered with the LoC directly though I'm still trying to figure out the process.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In