(Writers' Warning is a new section we're debuting here on ScreenwritersLeague.com where we post about suspicious and potentially risky services and companies. Not all practices mentioned are necessarily dangerous for writers - some might be completely legit and just sound fishy at first. We only report the facts and encourage comments from people who know better and can speak on behalf of the situations/companies.)
I recently had cause to call a number of entertainment lawyers, soliciting advice on something where I could. One of the things I spoke about with one of them was WGA script registration versus U.S. Copyright. (You'll remember we discussed this a bit before.) Well, the discussion, at least if you speak with this particular lawyer, is over.
When the lawyer asked if I had gotten my script copyrighted, I told him that I had done the WGA registration. He literally laughed. "That's absolutely worthless," he said. "I don't know why people even bother doing it."
I asked for clarification, and he explained that it offered zero legal protection on the material or, more importantly, the idea. Obtaining a copyright alone will potentially save a writer loads of headache (and heartache), according to him. for just $35 (compared to $22 for the WGA registration), a writer can apply for a U.S. Copyright. The whole thing can be done online, as it is with the WGA. It takes about 45 minutes - I did this yesterday - and is really pretty simple. There's a lot of filling in easy blanks (i.e. name, title of material, type of work, etc.). I've heard that it can take up to 6 months to receive the certificate of copyright, but the lawyer informed me that doesn't matter. "The date is retroactive form the day you register," he said, so though it might be June 2009 before I receive that certificate, to the best of my knowledge, it will have been effective beginning December 15th, 2008.
I'm no legal expert. (Don't take this post as solid legal advice - always get a lawyer of your own to look anything over or get advice.) Nonetheless, from now on, I'm at least urging each League member to get that copyright. I'm not going to say abandon the WGA registration (couldn't hurt, right?), but I'm certainly not going to rely on it as my only crutch from here on out.
Verbum Sap Sat, y'all.