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Protecting your script
Posted On 04/25/2010 17:41:46 by administrator

Protecting Your ScriptPDFPrintE-mailWritten by CJ Perry   Monday, 05 April 2010 01:22

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Finally, you have completed your script. After countless drafts, workshops, and merciless editing sessions, you now have a correctly formatted, workable manuscript. Of course, even though there are multiple steps in completing this process, this was only phase one. While writing for yourself is a sometimes enjoyable, cathartic outlet, presumably, you’re in this to make money, while bestowing your art (notice the priorities, here) upon the world.

 

So what comes next? It is time to protect your completed manuscript before you get ready to sell it or submit it to writing competitions. As a serious writer, you need to protect your original work. It seems now more than ever people are disregarding copyright laws; this of course has coincided with the Internet age, where it’s quite common to see somebody using copyrighted music for their own YouTube videos, and more than likely also using footage that’s not their own. This means that your original script, pitch, or treatment could be in danger as well.


One of the most famous instances of a writer filing a lawsuit against a studio for breach of contract regarding an original idea was Art Buchwald vs. Paramount in 1990. Buchwald had pitched the treatment of what eventually became “Coming to America” to Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount in 1982, indicating it would be a good starring vehicle for Eddie Murphy, who was under contract to the studio at the time.

 

Paramount abandoned the project, and two years later, Warner Bros. optioned Buchwald’s treatment. When Paramount began developing the movie again, Warner Bros. dropped it. The movie was released in 1988 by Paramount, giving sole story credit to Murphy, and Buchwald filed suit, eventually winning.

 

Protect Yourself

 

Keep a detailed log of all meetings, calls, and queries you’ve sent. This means keeping track of who you’ve talked to and what was said. This will help if there are any legal questions (like if somebody tries to steal your ideas) and it will also help you keep a record of contacts you’ve made. Never hesitate to contact an attorney.

 

Make sure your work is copyrighted. In “The Screenwriter’s Bible,” David Trottier notes the things you can’t copyright as your own: ideas, historical facts, plots, titles, phrases, and anything not written down. You can, however, protect your original expressions of those things in your script.

 

Under current copyright law, you own the rights to your work as you are writing it. While you don’t have to, you can contact the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov in Washington, D.C. While somebody else may end up owning the copyright to your script once you’ve sold it, it might be good practice to copyright it yourself when you begin to circulate it.

 

Many writers will protect their work by way of the poor man’s copyright. This entails putting the script in an envelope, sealing it and sending it to yourself via registered mail. Don’t open it—keep it sealed for any legal battles later.


The WGA 


Registering with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) means that you are establishing yourself as the originator of your script. While it is not the same as having a U.S. copyright, most writers register with the Guild. It creates valid evidence in legal disputes. It also offers a  reference list for reputable agents, other writers, and legitimate studios.

 

WGA operates two offices, one in New York and one in L.A. The two territories are divided by the Mississippi River. To register your script, treatment, or synopsis, send $20 (WGA, west, and they will hold it for five years) or $22 (WGA, east, and they will hold it for ten years) along with your completed work. You can renew your registration, and even register different drafts along with the finished script. Registering a treatment or synopsis is smart if you’re going to immediately present the idea to others.

 

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