July 18, 2019

Should I Register My Script with the WGA or Copyright It?

When it comes to protecting your ideas, should you register your script with the WGA or copyright it? 

So you have your best idea, you wrote an incredible screenplay, and now you want to send it out to contests and to search for agents and managers...BUT WAIT! 

How do you know your idea is protected? How do you ensure that your ideas remain your ideas? 

The answer is simple: you can safeguard your idea via registering your screenplay with the WGA or copyrighting the script with the United States Government. But which is right for you and your screenplay?

Let's dive into WGA registration and copyrighting your screenplay to find out which is best.

What is WGA Registration? 

WGA registration is a process where you tell the WGA the origin date of your idea, so you can keep track of it in case you submit it somewhere and later see someone profiting with your same idea later. This is rare, but it has happened in the past. So, the WGA invented registration to help protect writers. 

If you register your script with the WGA, your protections last five years. 

The advantage of registration is that in the event of a lawsuit or a credit arbitration, the WGA will have an employee appear and testify concerning the date of the registration. 

Some examples of registerable material include scripts, treatments, synopses, and outlines. Also, you can do all the registration alone. So that's super convenient. 

Registration with the WGA is not a Copyright. So why would you register your script with the WGA? 

Here's what their site says: 

"As the world leader in screenplay registration, the WGAW Registry has been the industry standard in the creation of legal evidence for the protection of writers’ work since 1927...The WGA West is the home to nearly 12,000 of Hollywood's leading TV and screenwriters, but you do not need to be a WGAW member to use this vital Guild service."

Why would I copyright my screenplay? 

Copyrighting your idea establishes ownership of it. That doesn't mean you own every space pirate idea, but it does keep the specific details of your space pirate script your own. Copyright registration lasts for your entire life, plus 70 years, so that's a little more than the five the WGA can guarantee. 

Copyright services also allow you to bill your lawyers out to whoever stole your idea, so you won't lose money defending you stuff in court. 

The major downside is that it usually takes 4-6 months to obtain a copyright, whereas WGA registration is instantaneous. 

You can learn how to copyright a script in the below video or on the US Copyright office's website

What is the Difference Between WGA Registration & Copyright? 

While this can all seem a little complicated, The Writer's Store gives you this helpful infographic to weigh both options. 

WGA Registration
Credit: The Writer's Store

Should you register or copyright?

Personally, I'd just register it with the WGA because it's fast, easy, and instant. If you're super worried, submit that copyright. 

I want to stress that idea stealing is not a rampant occurrence in Hollywood, but there's a good Today Article about the times it has happened. Remember, Ideas are not subject to federal copyright protection, only finished products.

So get writing and finish your work! 

What's next? Write a Screenplay in Ten Weeks

Screenwriting is hard. But to become a filmmaker, you need to learn script writing to master storytelling. We'll give you free lessons. 

Click the link to learn more!      

Your Comment

5 Comments

Copyright it!

July 19, 2019 at 5:15AM

12
Reply
avatar
Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1507

You have no legal recourse with WGA registration, only copyright registration.

WGA registration is only useful at all if you're in the WGA and some dirtbag producer (as an example) wants to credit jump onto your script because they gave notes on your script. The WGA will then look at the registered versions of the script and arbitrate a credit decision.

With copyright you can only get up to $150k statutory if you hadn't registered before filing a lawsuit. The big money is in the "punitive" or "discretionary" increase in damages.

The discretionary increase for willful infringement is the only punitive provision to be found in the Act. To encourage copyright registration, Congress mandated that statutory damages are available only where the owner registered the work prior to the infringement, or at least within three months of the work' first publication if the infringement occurred before registration.[v] But owners who have not timely registered their copyrights are not left without a remedy: they are entitled to their actual damages plus any of the infringer' profits attributable to the infringement, which, in many instances, far exceed the maximum statutory damages amount.

July 19, 2019 at 9:27AM, Edited July 19, 9:27AM

1
Reply
avatar
Film Voltage
Director
363

Please note that you cannot protect an idea since no one can own an idea. You can, however, protect your execution of the idea, which is what this article should be saying. Keep it together, guys.

July 19, 2019 at 12:05PM

0
Reply

You can file a copyright and get a filing recipt immediately by going to copyright.gov/eco
The filing affords you big time protections not available at WGA..The hard copy is returned from Cooyright office much later but filing will bear date of receipt..no reason to go to WGA at all

July 19, 2019 at 1:10PM

0
Reply
avatar
BRUCE A NAHIN
Business Affairs
6

Yes, you should.

$60 is nothing, and if the script is not worth spending that much then rewrite till its there.

July 25, 2019 at 2:46PM

1
Reply
Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1082