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Screenplay Rights Protection

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 8/31/2009

Here are some tips for new screenwriters on how to protect their screenplay.

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    Screenplay Protection

    Once you enter the world of commercial screenwriting you will find that protection over your intellectual property should be one of your main concerns. Anyone can put their story into a format fit for the screen, but it is important that you leave it unable to be appropriated as a property by a third party. There are a lot of ways that your original work can be stolen from you where there is nothing you can do in return. Here are just a few tips for beginning screenwriters on how to protect their work.

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    Keep Records

    The first thing that you have to look into is keeping a record of their progress. This will help show under inspection that you were there every step of the way. You do this by saving separate files away from the main file periodically. This way you have different sections saved separately to show that they were a small part of the progress. This is especially true for early edits and drafts. The save dates on these files will help you prove your claim. Try to put these on an external hard drive so that they are safe from computer malfunction.

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    Copyright and WGA

    Once you have finished your screenplay you are going to want to protect it. This includes registering it at the U.S. copyright office and with the Writer’s Guild of America. Both of these sources cost money, but they will help to establish your exact work as a unique piece. They cannot, however, protect all of the story elements or themes in your screenplay. It is best to do this for the first draft on, especially if you are going to be showing early drafts to industry professional and critics. Remember that copyrighting your script gives you more control on how much security you want on your script and will give you a more comprehensive and longer period of protection.

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    Don't Send Them Unannounced

    Make sure that when you are showing your screenplay, especially in commercial settings, that it has always been requested. Never send your screenplay on its own to an agency or producer as this leaves it open to theft. Instead send query letters or make some sort of contact previously.