November 15, 2018

What is screenplay registration?

Your screenplay or teleplay is the result of many months, if not years of hard work. Smart screenwriters know that  But like all things in the legal world, things can get a bit confusing and a bit complicated, especially when it comes to creative works.

What exactly is screenplay registration?

Script registration is a document-based process where a screenwriter submits her screenplay, teleplay, or other literary material, via email or an upload form, to a third-party service known as a script registrar. There are several script registrars on the internet. Script registrars then provide the screenwriter with a document that details the time and date which the material was submitted by the screenwriter, and then keeps and stores, online or offline in a secure vaulted server, or in a printed vault, the screenplay or other work which the screenwriter submitted. That copy of the document, plus the documented time and date document which both the registrar and the screenwriter keep copies off, work together to provide a documented, legal claim of the screenwriter to authorship of the literary material.

Is screenplay registration foolproof?

Does that mean that their script registration is bulletproof and foolproof and can wipe away any claim to the material made by an unscrupulous producer trying to steal your work? No. But it does provide documents that could be used as evidence to help prove title and ownership of the material, should the need arise.

The key word is the word “evidence.”  The registration from Script Register and other registrars helps provide evidence for you. That evidence is in the form of the proof of registration we provide the screenwriter, which establishes a time and date as to when we’ve received your material, what the material is comprised of (that is, the actual screenplay and all its text), and any other identifying data.

That evidence is just one bit what’s typically a long chain of evidence, or chain of title. There are many other forms of evidence that could come into play as well. For example, drafts of the screenplay, correspondence such as email or certified mail, faxes, you name it.

Any document tying a time and date, and/or the actual text of the document, or names, places, etc. is something that a judge or arbiter or attorney can use to help either prove or disprove who’s the author of a particular work, or who’s the major author on a group or partnership work, or who’s deserving of X credit or Y credit based on the text and time of the material in question.

How screenplay registration helps writers protect their work

Registering your screenplay helps to prevent plagiarism or unauthorized use of your screenwriting and material. The actual text of a screenplay, archived and timestamped, can serve as an effective piece of evidence, should the need arise to prove authorship, establish title on the screenplay, or prove, textually, a specific writer’s contribution to the script (in co-writing situations or in situations where multiple writers contribute to the screenplay over time).

When screenwriters transmit their scripts via email to anyone, whether it’s a producer, agent, co-writer, or other person, a copy of that script is automatically made. The original resides on the writer’s computer or device, and a copy then exists on the device or computer of the person she sent the script to.

By creating multiple copies of the script out “in the wild” like this, it becomes easier for the script to be further distributed, and thus more likely that the ideas in the script, or the actual text of the script itself, may be stolen by unscrupulous persons. For example, a producer looking to exploit the entire text of a script by a new writer without having to pay that writer, or a filmmaker looking to steal the idea of a great chase sequence, or a smart piece of dialogue, or a character.

Do I need to copyright my screenplay?

The good news is, screenplays, outlines, and treatments, as well as teleplays, are generally protectable by copyright, and there’s no requirement to have to actually legally register those materials for any official copyright. The law states that as soon as you type anything and save it to disk, or print it onto paper, whether it’s finished or not, that work is copyrighted. That said, you can register your work with the US copyright office by sending in your material and a check and filling out a form.

The bad news is, while documents and other things can be copyrighted, ideas can’t be legally protected in any significant way. Under the law, ideas or concepts cannot be copyrighted. To be clear, there are ways to sue for what’s deemed as “idea misappropriation,” but it’s rare that those cases are ever successful due to how difficult it is to prove that any sort of misappropriation of ideas actually took place.

How does script registration work?

A script registrar’s screenplay registration process provides the writer a timestamped certificate of authorship and registration. That certificate, usually received by email immediately after you submit your material, states that you registered this specific material on this specific date, at this specific time. At Script Register in particular, by the time we’ve sent your certificate to you, we’ve already archived your entire submitted document (script, outline, or whatever you send) on our secure server.

So in the event you need to pursue legal action against an infringing party, we provide you with third-party proof of that timestamp, and we can provide the actual document as well, which you can then use as an evidentiary tool in any litigation proceedings. When a judge, jury, or arbitration panel receives from a third party a timestamped, datestamped copy of your material, rather than from you directly, it’s likely to hold more weight and be more worthy of consideration. In those situations, if you can present your copyright, that holds a lot of weight. If you can present your copyright and a third-party timestamped, datestamped document which proves your authorship of the script in question, it could hold even more weight and help you even more.