As a screenwriter, you have probably heard stories of content and idea theft. Perhaps you have even experienced it firsthand. Protecting your script is important, but how many hoops do you really need to jump through to ensure your work is legally yours? Is registering with the Writers Guild of America-West (WGAW) necessary? How does it compare to copyright protection?
What is the WGAW Registry?
The WGAW Registry allows writers to document when they created their work. By submitting a final copy of your work to the Registry, you are claiming that the work is yours and was completed on the submission date. If you later learn that someone has stolen your work, you can use your WGAW registration to help show that your work was the original content.
How does Writers Guild of America’s registration compare with copyright registration?
WGAW registration does not provide legal protections. It is a form of evidence. Should you face infringement, you can ask a WGAW employee to confirm the date of submission in court. It is a relatively inexpensive service, running $10 every five years for Guild members, and $20 for non-members.
Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is a more formal, legal approach to copyright protection. It is also a necessary step should you need to sue someone for copyright infringement. Copyright registration is typically $35-55 (as of 2017) and does not need to be renewed. You can register your copyright at any time, whether that’s the moment you finish your script or the moment you learn someone has copied it.
Do you need to register your work?
The moment you put words on paper (or save your computer file), your work is protected under U.S. Copyright Law. You do not need to register with either the U.S. Copyright Office or the WGAW to have this protection. As I have discussed in a previous blog post about copyrights, you should think about copyright as a noun, not a verb. There is no action “to copyright” something. Rather, you own a copyright the moment you create your work. You can register that copyright to show your ownership.
Is it worth it, then, to spend the money to register your work? The answer depends on your unique situation. There are many legal issues that can arise between script creation and production. Consider sitting down with a lawyer to learn how you can protect your work and your rights to it.