Screenwriting : When presenting a script how can I keep it protected? by John Rogers

John Rogers

When presenting a script how can I keep it protected?

So i'm always wanting other screenwriters to read portions of my script or previous drafts to get feed back on certain characters or themes but i've become more hesitant since the script is now it it's third draft and it's becoming more polished. I guess i'm afraid of someone stealing my story or my script in its entirety. How would I be able to avoid this sort of thing when I want people to read it in order to get exposure? Am I being un reasonable?

Bob Wagner

John: A quick, easy and inexpensive way to protect your script is by registering with the Writers Guild of America. You don't have to be a member to do so. Go to www.wgawregistry.com and the site will walke you through the process. Only $20. You'll need a PDF copy of your script for uploading and some basic name and address information. Once it's registered, they mail you a certificate with the registration number. If I remember right you even get the registration number during the online process (or maybe in an email). Then you can put on your title page: Registered, WGA #########. Also a good idea to formally copyright it, which can also be done online with the US govt.

Chip Street

Agreed. Bear in mind that the WGA reg is limited (3 years? Can't recall now) and needs to be renewed. Govt Copyright is perpetual (to the current copyright limit at least) and costs about $35. While technically any expression is "automatically copyrighted" at inception, should there be any future litigation, the court will look for proof of precedence... who created the expression first. The court will recognize US Copyright registration as that proof... not WGA registration. So the sooner that's done, the better. The WGA reg is good for protecting your rights in any future WGA arbitration should the script be sold to a signatory production (although unsure how that works if you're not a member - a review of their site should clarify). I say do BOTH WGA and Copyright. There is no such thing as "poor man's copyright" (mailing yourself a copy) with any legal teeth. Moving forward, if the story changes in significant ways that you feel may not be protected by your existing registration, you may want to register those versions. You will hear the occasional horror story about someone stealing a screenplay. I personally don't believe it happens often. It's usually a case of a newbie screenwriter not understanding that only their expression can be protected, not their idea, and then seeing a similar concept come to screen and claiming someone "stole their idea" (Deep Impact / Armageddon). There is something in the zeitgeist, and if an idea is good and timely it will likely occur to more than one creative person. If you've done your homework, and submitted a script to a prodco that traffics in your kind of film (creature features, dinosaur movies, time travel romances) they may already have something similar in the pipeline. This is why prodco's sometimes ask the submitting writer to sign something saying they won't sue the prodco if the prodco has a similar property in development (now or later). Opinions vary on whether you should sign said document though.

Bob Wagner

Chip: FYI, my WGA script registration says 10 years with an option to renew for another 10.

Chip Street

Thanks, Bob. It's been a while since I reg'd with WGA and should have gone and looked at my records. Longer than I thought!

Richard "RB" Botto

I agree here...WGA registration, at the very least, is a must. I was down at Austin last year and attended some panels friends were speaking on...At almost every one, regardless of the topic of the seminar, this question was raised. The instances of scripts being stolen is much less than people think...As a friend of mine, who has had many, many screenplays produced loves to say whenever he's on a panel: Don't think you're good enough to be ripped off. Just get better at your craft and register your work.

Daniel C

Copyright is better than WGA. It lasts longer and is more "official". Stealing happens much less than what you think, so don't stress about it. BUT remember, WGA or copyright just secures your interpretation of an idea, not the actual idea itself... If that was the case most of today's films wouldn't be made!

David Navarro

WGA registration lasts for five years -- not ten. US copyright last for the life of a writer plus seventy years.

Désirée Nordlund

You want people to read to get feedback and later sell it. So let them read it. Stealing is rare so don't get paranoid about it.

David Margulis

This is a common question and really should be the first thing writers look into. Even before buying Sid Fields' book, SCREENPLAY or a writing program. The answer is: Both WGA Registration and US Copyright. Both can be done on-line. Remember, registration with WGA is a claim of AUTHORSHIP. US Copyright filings pertain to claims of OWNERSHIP. When you sell your screenplay, you will assign and transfer the copyright to the buyer. You will still hold the authorship since you wrote it. Register your treatment, rough draft and final draft before you share it with friends and professionals. Although one can not copyright an idea; copyright your treatment, rough draft and any substantial revisions as well. Use copyright form: PA. This is the cheapest, most efficient way of obtaining "insurance" on your intellectual properties. Also, keep track of your submissions and create a chain of evidence with a paper trail. The WGA has the most powerful attorney's on the planet and will fight on your behalf, granted you filed a proper registration with them. After the registration is complete, start on your next project. You WILL sell your screenplay someday.

Christi Goldman Chambers

I recommend (if possible) having a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for them to sign. In this day and time, I think protecting your work is important.

Diane Jean

Maybe just be very selective as to the people you let read it.

Shanika Freeman

Definitely WGA and US Copyright, so you can be covered on all sides. Also, I would draw up an agreement/contract for them to sign too, as others had said. It is better to be safe than sorry. I wouldn't recommend sending yourself a copy of your script because if push comes to shove and you have to take it to court, you will more than likely lose your case.

Francis (Fran)Connor

I use WGA. Maybe it isn't perfect but I hope I never have to find out how good they are. You can't be a writer and paranoid about people stealing your work. To get it made it has to be out there. Chances are you will be OK. You'll have your WGA registration, maybe a couple of submissions to competitions, maybe some coverage, maybe entries on a site like inktip or talentville so if you ever do have a problem with someone stealing your work you should have a good past record of when the script first set out in the big wide world and the thief could be struggling to match that. And, as Eric Idle sings, 'Always look on the bright side'. If someone steals your work and gets it made you have the satisfaction of knowing that you created something worthwhile even if you never get the credit for it! Jump in and enjoy your work and don't worry, be happy!

Daniel L. Noe

Here is a perfect example of a story idea being produced by two different "Companies", SIMULTANEOUSLY. Currently, "Olympus Has Fallen" is being lensed in Vancouvor AND Louisiana. It is a literal race to the box office. The Vancouvor shoot is taking place on the soundstages of SG-1, and the Loisiana shoot is taking place in Shreveport, by Avi Lerner and company. Have been told it is the same script, with some variences. Another example is "Halo", which never got off the ground. Then, out of nowhere, Tom Cruise is producing "Horizon", which, incidentally, reads just like "Halo". Principal started in March and is scheduled to wrap in September. Plagarism, such a "dirty" word for a common practice within the zone. It does not matter how one protects their IP. If it is a solid story idea, someone will get their hands on it. Either legally or nefariously, but it can and does happen. My siggestion is to copyright the concept and WGA the screenplay. That will give one a bit more latitude of protection. Advice from my lawyer, who specializes in Intellectual Property law. Also, when submitting scripts to "reading eyes", it does not hurt to require that they sign a Non-disclosure/ Non-compete Agreement, before releasing the script. A little added paperwork, but it provides a measure of protection, by leaving a paper trail exserting chain of custody. Finally, another way to release IP, is to do it through a Rep. whether a lawyer or a Literay Rep. Vetted solicitation is optimum, if one can make it happen. And remember this. All one has to do to rewrite an exsisting story is change the characters names and at least 20% of the story, and viola, a new story has emerged, considered entirely different than the original. Copyright and WGA registration may not protect IP completely, but it can provide a useful tool in case of IP litigation. A copyright or registration is like an affidavit. They are a proof of a claim. I have no fears submitting my IP. I have several IP's in various hands, and none have done anything ilegitimate with them. Simply because we qualified the sources first. CYA, folks! Qualify everyone before releasing IP, just as you will be qualified by your IP. It's a two way street. Cheers!

Daniel L. Noe

@Thereasa- what you described is called the "poor mans copyright" and has not been recognized since 1975 by the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. All it denotes is that one has mailed themselves something on a specified date. It affords no protection. Finally, some historical notes. Thomas Edison is the worlds premier plagarist of inventions. He influenced congress to institute the Copyright office within the Library of Congress. Copyright comes from a coined phrase of Edisons, meaning "the right to copy". He, along with the help of the Pinkertons traveled the globe stealing invention ideas. He ripped off Nikola Tesla, the Lemierre brothers, and a slew of other European inventors. Edison was the chief of plagarists and IP thiefs. Cheers!

Andrew Gruffudd

In Britain, a piece of work is automatically copyright as soon as it leaves the author's pen. Of course, you might find difficulty in proving your work precedes any copy, but a useful ruse was taught to me very early in my writing career. To effectively date-stamp your work, what you need to do is put it in an envelope and post it to yourself. Just so long as you know what's inside it - and, most importantly, not to open it when you get it back (!) - then you should have a date stamp provided by a theoretically in-corruptible source.

Michael Whitton

Rose Hall hit the mark.

Bruce Quinn

@Daniel, @Thereasa, poorman's copyright is as Daniel says no protection, but it does lend to any legal action that you might take...It shows the date, and that you attempted to protect your authorship, It should also be followed up with at least copyrighting...The cost of both is insignificant...the biggest problem is that the world as a whole doesn't follow through to keep you protected...It's been estimated that within 6 weeks of getting a patent, that your product is compied and either "pared down" or changed enough to create a patent for someone else...and that the best way to keep processes safe is to lock them in the vault with the Coke, Pepsi, and KFC secret ingredients lists...

Daniel L. Noe

a comment correction- OHF is shooting in Montreal, and not Vancouver, and "Horizon" has been shelved momentarily. the "poor mans" copyright is not legal nor admissable as evidence towards a copyright claim.

Scott C. Brown

Your best best is to actually take the time and copyright your work. An entertainment lawyer can help you with this, if you have one. Registering it with the WGA only protects it to a minor extent and for a limited period of time (most people don't realize this since they don't do their research), where as a copyright protects it and is legally actionable at any point.

Robert Sciglimpaglia

I am an actor as well as attorney. Definitely copyright the work by registering it with the US Copyright office. It is really easy to do, and inexpensive, and will protect you in case someone "borrows" your work. NDA's are fine, but not practical in many circumstances. Using an attorney to pitch the idea also adds some protection as well, and many places, including agencies will not accept cold submissions of screenplays and other writings unless they come from an attorney. "Poor man's copyrights" (by mailing yourself the manuscript) are useless. Unless the work is registered with the US Copyright office, you cannot bring an infringement lawsuit against someone who has stolen your work.

Harold Mota

The first thing to do is register your creation somewhere that is dedicated to that, ten people have a lot of confidence and conviction about yourself.

Scott Walsh

ALL OF THE ABOVE is great advice, but maybe you are looking for a technical way to share your stuff. Issuu comes to mind as does sharing it with privacy options available at my website atlantafilmcrew.com ~ no offense to ANYONE here but the website is mainly for people in Atlanta or planning to come to Atlanta. Of course, you can make your profile private, post it there, update your profile, change it later. Lots of options. Its up to you. Of course, nothing is beyond copying if one tries hard enough, but there are plenty of password protection options, like Google Drive.

Diane Jean

I say focus on writing something people would want to steal. My partner and I have stuff stolen from our Stand Up Comedy material all the time.....we just have to write faster than them.

Diane Jean

Faster than they can lift it that is.

Robert Smith Mfa

Always copyright everything and always register everything with the WGA. It's very inexpensive to protect our work.

Abike Olushina Washington

Remember that you are the creative one. You have more than one story idea inside you, learn from it. That person is not a friend move on and always protect your work. by the way the person who stole your stuff won't get very far in life. Eventually the priciples of our universe will back fire on them.

Don Rittner

It's only $25 to register with WGA if you are not a member. Do not have to be a member either to register your script.

Richard "RB" Botto

Actually, I believe it's only $20, Don. $10 if you're a member. Register your work.

Don Rittner

Richard $25 for non members, $17 for students, $10 for members. Just checked again for WGA East. Maybe West has different rate structure?

Colin Holmes

WGA East and West have different rates, protection windows, renewals... Best bet is US copyright.

Don Rittner

US Copyright yes, however as I understand it, anything you write is automatically protected by copyright but registering gives you the added protection of the registration. The rates from both east and west WGA are minimal and I would recommend doing both.

Robert Sciglimpaglia

True that a work is automatically copyrighted upon creation, but if someone wants to sue someone for infringement, or bring any other enforcement action, the work must be registered. Also, if someone else is going to claim that they came up with the work prior in time, the easiest way to prove who came up with the idea first is by when it was registered with the US Copyright office.

Maty Grosman

US copyright office, hands down. WGA registration only serves to document the date a copyrighted work has been created. However, without Copyright Office registration you WILL NOT be able to collect either attorney’s fees or statutory damages if infringement occurs. There's a lot of misinformation on this issue, and WGA seems to create deliberate ambiguity, For more information: http://zernerlaw.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/it%E2%80%99s-time-for-the-writ...

Don Rittner

Maty, yes Copyright office should be the first course and if you want to have the WGA reg that is just another proof incase.

Don Rittner

I agree Robert.

Maty Grosman

I'm curious what extra protection WGA might add? Thought Copyright covers anything the WGA covers, and then some. It might be $15 more, but it's for life and doesn't have to be renewed. Unless I'm missing something?

Marisa Torre

My reaction to this issue is kinda techie. Besides the WGA and gov't copyrights registry, 2 things: If you create the work on a computer, it will provide a record of 'date created' and 'modified' which is always helpful in establishing time issues. If they've stolen your work, they will have posted it after you have. However ... It has occurred to me that ITs can be given complete access to your computer, and hackers can be merciless. They can not only download ALL your life's work and claim it as their own, but erase it all from your system. I do ALL my creative work on a computer that has never been online. Strictly OFFLINE and I back up everything onto removable data sticks ... a handful of them. I keep 2 of them right next to my keyboard but never plugged in unless I'm working on my projects. It has been my experience that when people are interested enough in your work, they will request a hardcopy, they will understand about confidentiality issues, probably want to meet with you in person and they will usually have a cheque book ready. If you're sending work via email, you'll have to know and trust who ever is receiving your work. Usually you will only be sending the minimum required -enough to hook their interest and make them want to ask for more. Our's is an elusive commodity, I think we've all had these concerns. Hopes this helps. All the best. M.

Marisa Torre

btw. pursuant to Daniel L. Noe's post, consider Dangerous Liasons (1988 Warner Bros) and Valmont (1989 Orion) had exactly the same story and in fact much of the same dialogue. Frankly I could never really understand how that happened. Does anyone know?

Jorge Castaneda

Register your material with the WGA. That, and try to focus on getting trusted friends and colleagues to get you the feedback you desire.

MJ Brewer

SAG has a place to copyright materials, but the reality is that no one can really steal your ideas unless you are finished and they copy. With as much work as it takes to write a full piece, releasing ten pages shouldn't worry you too much.

Marisa Torre

hi J Drury, that's what I thought. But the timing just seemed questionable to me. I don't know that execs of either the prod'n co, the studio or the distributor, made the best decision to release them so closely together or whether they knew of simultaneous productions, I'm not sure I would have wanted to make that decision. thanks for the shout.M.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

pray someone actually wants to steal it - if they do it must be good.

Bruce Quinn

Those who do that sort of thing have said there are only 15, 23, or 26 plots or variants (depends on who you are reading). trying to prove someone stole something from you is very difficult...if you googled part of your screenplay,, odds are you'd probably find that someone had already done something very similar...at least to a part of it...if you divided your screenplay into 100 pieces and googled each one, you'd probably find that each of the pieces has also already been done...but take heart...I don't believe in polishing all that much...Hemingway wrote one pass then penciled in changes...his first thoughts were his creative ones...his second thoughs made him readable..his third thoughts went in the trash...treat it like a spontaneous joke..the best jokes that make someone gut laugh are the ones that weave in the moment and get everryone laughing in agreement...like been there done that...I thin Billy was making the point that if your script is good enough to steal, it must be worthwhile...for every one there's a thousand that should become lining paper for the kitty litter box..

Allison Bruning

How so, Jacqueline?

Allison Bruning

Nope, Jacqueline. I'm glad the producer I'm working with doesn't do that. In fact he is working with me as I am in the editing process.

David Liberman

I've never understood the fear of screenwriters -- especially new ones -- that a producer will steal their screenplay. Why on earth would a producer do this? You're new. A producer can buy it off of you for next to nothing. They can give you a couple grand on the option and then do the final purchase (at production) for the WGA minimum. The lawsuit for theft would be much higher. Its pure paranoia. WGA minimum for a feature with a budget under $5 mil is about $50K. For a budget over $5 mil, it's about $100K. So again, why would a producer steal your script, when he can buy it for nothing?

Daniel Lokey

I keep trying to steal Ideas from the Library but they wont let me check anything out unless I take off my ski mask.

John Rogers

After one year I've come back to s32 and am surprised to see this thread still rolling forward. Thanks for all the responses everyone! I'm happy that someone else might be learning something from this thread, and thankfully i've just been focusing on my writing (and re-writing) rather than the fear of stolen ideas. When the time comes i'll send my copy written script to trusted sources, with the knowledge that theft happens but not as much as people say. Irrational fear of my ideas being stolen will only keep me from my career.

殷 宏新

This is not to say.

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