Film, TV, Video, Radio, Interactive Media Writers: Protect Your Work
Strategies to protect your intellectual property include WGAW and Copyright Office registrations, copyright notice, and a Collaboration Agreement. But the most effective thing you can do to give notice that your work is protected is to do business whenever possible through your entertainment lawyer
Online WGA Registration is a Quick, Cheap, and Easy Way to Document Your Work's Authorship DateThe WGA West accepts registration from its members and non-members of scripts, treatments, synopses, outlines, and written ideas intended for radio, television and film, video cassettes/discs, or interactive media, as well as stageplays, novels and other books, short stories, poems, commercials, lyrics, drawings, music and other media work.
Go to https://www.wgawregistry.org/webrss/dataentry.asp.
Enter your personal information and your payment information.
Upload the file you wish to register. Only one file for each online registration request will be accepted, and the file size limit is 10 MB; zip files are prohibited.
Once you get your WGAW registration number, affix that number on all copies of your work.
Add a Copyright Notice to Your Work, and Apply for Copyright Registration for Your WorkYou have a "common law" copyright in your work as soon as it's created. Besides putting your WGAW registration number on all copies of your work, another easy way to assert your rights is to affix a copyright notice on all copies of your work. A proper notice consist of 1) the symbol (C) (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; 2) the year of first publication of the work; and 3) the name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an recognizable abbreviation of the name.
An example would be (C) 2020 Jane Doe.
Taking copyright protection a step further, the next thing you should do is to apply for copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. This registration provides many benefits, including a public record of your copyright, and the ability to sue for infringement.
See my Legal Guide "eCO COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION" for help with the registration process.
You may have heard an old folk tale about something often called a "poor person's (or man's) copyright." This is a method of mailing yourself your work, and then not opening the mail, supposedly so you can prove the work was created before the postmark's date. This makes no sense. It's not like copyright registration is expensive so you'd need a "poor person's" option. Applying for a single work only costs $45, as of March 20, 2020. If you don't think your work is worth $45 to protect it properly, you need to reconsider your priorities. Also, nothing stops anyone from stealing someone else's work, mailing it to yourself, and not opening the mail, so mailing something and not opening the mail doesn't prove anything about authorship.
A Collaboration Agreement Will Minimize the Chances of a Dispute Between You and Your Co-Writer(s)When two (or more) writers write a work together, they're collaborating, and for everyone's protection, a written Collaboration Agreement delineates the writers' rights. Most importantly, the agreement should specify the percentages of ownership, which are sometimes, but not always, equal shares. Just as necessary, it should provide that no writer may sell or license the work without the consent of the other(s), and it should address how the proceeds of any transaction should be divided. Other terms commonly found in Collaboration Agreements are the appointment of one or more sales agents, withdrawal from or termination of collaboration, and effective enforcement provisions.
Doing Business Through Your Lawyer Tells Everyone, Without Saying So, That Your Work's ProtectedLawyers carry with them the implicit threat of a lawsuit, and that threat's always there. So yes, depending on your lawyer's terms of service, it may cost you more, but having a lawyer's involvement is like having insurance on your work. Anyone who even considers taking your work without compensating you knows there will be consequences. They know you know your rights and are prepared to enforce them.