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WGAw Registration vs. Copyright Registration

By Larry Zerner ESQ

WGA REGISTRATION vs. COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION For screenwriters who use the latest version of Final Draft ® to help write their script, one nifty feature is the ability to register the screenplay with the WGA-West Intellectual Property Online Registry with the touch of a button. Many (if not most) screenwriters register all of their scripts with the WGA Registry, and, believing that they have done all that is necessary to protect their script, they neglect to register the script with the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (http://www.copyright.gov).

Imagine their surprise when someone steals their screenplay and they learn for the first time that, other than establishing a date of creation, the WGA registration gives them almost no benefits at all. In fact, relying solely on the WGA registration can prove extremely costly for the following reasons.

First, although copyright protection exists at the moment of creation, registration with the Copyright Office is required before a lawsuit can be brought. Because it can take up to six months from the time the application is mailed to the Copyright Office until the application is processed and returned, if the writer needs to immediately file a lawsuit (i.e., in order to enjoin the movie's distribution), he must apply for an expedited registration, for which the Copyright Office charges an additional $580.

Second, if the writer registers the script with the Copyright Office only after the infringement has taken place, he will be barred from recovering attorneys fees or statutory damages in the lawsuit.

Third, if the script is registered prior to or within five years of its publication, the registration acts as prima facie proof of ownership of the script in the event of a trial. There is no such benefit from the WGA registration.

The only real advantage of the WGA registration is that, in the event of a lawsuit or a credit arbitration, the WGA will have an employee appear and testify concerning the date of the registration. But this is rarely an issue during litigation.

Therefore, if you are a screenwriter wondering whether to register with the WGA or the Copyright Office, the answer should be clear - always register your script with the Copyright Office, and, if you have the extra $10 or $20, register with the WGA as well. And if you have scripts in your drawer that you registered in the past with the WGA, but never bothered to register with the Copyright Office, now is the time to do so. Before the work is infringed.

WGA RegistrationCopyright Registration
Cost$10 WGA members
$20 non-members
$40
Duration of Protection5 years, but renewable for additional 5 year termsIf author is a natural person - author's life plus 70 years; If author is a corporation, anonymous or pseudonymous, then 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Allows Immediate Access to Court?NoYes
Allows for Attorney's Fees If Infringed?NoYes, if registered prior to infringement or within 90 days of publication
Allows for Statutory Damages If Infringed?NoYes, if registered prior to infringement or within 90 days of publication
Will Accept Submissions Over The Internet?YesYes
Acts as prima facie proof of ownership?NoYes
Will have employee appear in court to testify about date of submission?YesNo

Meet the Author: Larry Zerner ESQ