If You Don’t Copyright You Screenplay, It Could Cost You Millions

By on March 30, 2013

Are there any universal truths in the world of screenwriting? There are some definitive truths and then there are some myths. Among all the truths out there, the notion you need to copyright screenplay material to protect yourself is 100% LEGITIMATE. Let’s be very, very clear here: if you do not copyright your screenplay, you don’t own it. It is a public domain work.

Now, that does not automatically give people the right to steal from you. However, there really should not be much debate on this subject. You put a lot of hard work into crafting your screenplay. You clearly want to reap the rewards of your work. You do not want your work to be used in any way without your express permission or without being compensated for such work. To avoid all manner of problems from arising, you need to copyright screenplay material or else you open a whole host of potential problems.

Some may only register their screenplay with the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) and that is their choice. However, the wisest move to make would be to register with the Guild and then file a copyright for the screenplay to. Such a two-pronged approach can eliminate a lot of problems.

How exactly do you copyright screenplay material? The process is extremely easy and inexpensive as well. You basically register the screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office. There are two ways this can be done. The traditional way would be to print out the form and mail the screenplay and copywriting fee to the appropriate address. The other way is a lot easier. You upload the file online and pay via credit card through the office’s website. The cost of the copyright screenplay process is $20.

$20 is quite a bargain since the screenplay is copyrighted for the life of the author plus 50 years. In case you are wondering, the claim to the copyright would transfer to that of the author’s estate after the author has passed on.

Upon the completion of the copyrighting process, the author has established creating and owning the particular screenplay. However, there are certain issues that need to be understood here. The specifics of the screenplay (dialogue, original characters, etc) are copyrighted. You cannot copyright an idea. You also can only copyright those things you are the complete creator of. If you are drawing material from other sources you do not own such as a book, you may not be able to copyright it. Generally, any legal questions regarding what can constitute copyright screenplay material legal basics should be directed towards an attorney. This way, you will know fully where you stand and not find any unwanted surprised surrounding your ownership of your screenplay.

Once again, you positively must copyright screenplay material. To not do so can leave you open to having your material stolen or not having any legal recourse if this does happen to you. For only $20, why would you wish to take a risk with your writing career?

About Joe Screenwriter

I've been working in Hollywood at a major film studio for over 10 years. I've read thousands of scripts, run a screenplay coverage company and worked for a successful producer. I'm not a screenwriter, but I know good scripts from bad and have built up a cornucopia of knowledge.


  1. Juan Salmeron

    August 16, 2013 at 1:10 am

    helpful. I needed to be a bit more paranoid

  2. Ewa Deckert

    August 16, 2013 at 1:12 am


  3. Julien Michel

    August 16, 2013 at 1:19 am

    I like this cuz i love to write my own scripts for my short movies.