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Old 01-09-2008, 05:45 AM   #16
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I suppose we can agree to disagree.

Let's say Harry writes a screenplay that he finishes on June 1, 2006. However, he is currently divorcing his wife, Wendy, and he forgets to register the copyright. During the nasty divorce, Wendy gets a print-out of the screenplay and cleverly files a copyright application in her own name on December 1, 2006. She gets a copyright registration.

After the dust has settled from the divorce, Harry decides to file his copyright application for the screenplay on February 1, 2007. The Copyright Office does not conduct searches of earlier registrations or works.

Under this scenario, Wendy owns the registration. Wendy's registration pre-dates Harry's.

"The copyright exists from the moment of creation - but who created it first?" Indeed, who created it at all?

You're left in the same legal position as if Harry had stuffed in an envelope and mailed it to himself. You're stuck in fight to show who actually wrote it and who has rights to it.

To take another situation, Harry throws out a print-out of an early draft of his screenplay. The garbage man sees it on the top of the garbage pail. He says, "Hey, this looks interesting," types it up himself, gets a copyright registration and starts shopping the script around. Again, "who created it first?" All these methods do is establish who has the burden of proof in a dispute.

A copyright registration is not a magic pill. It is one form of evidence to prove ownership and assign who has the burden of proof. I think the best summary of the situation is the following: "Should you claim a copyright on a work, and someone comes along and says they were the original creator of the work, if your copyright is registered, the burden of proof of ownership in court falls to the one making the claim against your copyright. Should you claim a copyright on a work and it is not registered, the burden of proof of copyright ownership will usually fall to you."
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Old 01-09-2008, 12:23 PM   #17
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gmlii, you're making the classic newbie mistake of confusing copyright and evidence of copyright.

Legally copyright exists as soon as the words hit the page. However, even though the copyright exists as a legal truth, in order to prove you hold the copyright, if that copyright is ever challenged, then you'd have to provide evidence.

What Rik has correctly stated is that "poor man's copyright" doesn't provide a high enough quality of evidence in order to protect any claim... but registering your script with the Library of Congress does... and is accepted in international courts. Which is the reason that although I'm English screenwriter, living in Italy, I still register all my scripts with the US Library of Congress.

In your hypothetical example the wife would have better evidence of copyright... and therefore for all intents and purposes she would own the script. So, even though she stole the script, the hubby would have one hell of a time wrestling the script back from her, which will teach him to register his damn scripts.

You see there is a reason it's called "poor man's copyright"... it's not because it's the choice of poor people... it's because people who use it end up poor.
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Old 01-09-2008, 12:28 PM   #18
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That's fair, gmliii.

You can continue to advocate using the poor man's copyright and I will
continue to point out its flaws. For me, the $45 is worth it.
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Old 01-09-2008, 01:20 PM   #19
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Which is WHY I keep EVERYTHING. When I have an idea, I record it on a digital recorder. Later, usually within days, I transcribe that thereby giving me two matching documents that are dated.

I build a morgue of every screenplay I write... I simply get a folder and everything goes in there. I print out all my notes, I put the audio files on a couple of CDs.

Every note I make starts out with a date and no matter how insignificant I think one of my thoughts is about a screenplay, I record it and transcribe it -- stick it in that folder.


So just in case someone were to challenge my copyright, I already have a roadmap of dated evidence that leads to a completed draft of some kind. This includes character development, story outline, and simple brainstorming notes.


Take EVERYTHING into court against your ex-wife who registered your screenplay because you were too busy and you'll very likely beat her...

On the other hand, if she registers the copyright AND steals all your notes... LOL.

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Old 01-09-2008, 05:26 PM   #20
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I do the same thing with my notes... and because I use script editors, I also archive all emails and letters. It's that paper trail that makes all the difference.

However, the foundation of all that is registering of the first draft and any major revisions.

Even if the script has next to no commercial value, I'd still register it... simply because even when you think a script isn't going to do business, there was still a reason you wrote it... and it maybe something you come back to years later.
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Old 01-10-2008, 03:21 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by gmliii View Post
I'm am certain that there are struggling writers for whom the $45 is a hardship. Since the copyright is created automatically, the "poor man's copyright" is not creating copyright rights. What it is doing, however, is establishing a presumption (providing some form of evidence) that the work was in existence and completed at least as early as the date indicated on the USPS's postmark. It serves, to some degree, the same purpose as copyright registration - to establish a certain fixed date on which we know the work was complete.
That struggling writer will be struggling a lot longer if he submits his scripts without legal protection. His script will be stolen, and he will not have an ice cube's chance in a very hot place to defend himself. It costs me about $50 a week to eat. I'd go without eating for a week to pay for the copyright, rather than take a chance on losing years of work and starving a lot longer.
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Old 01-16-2008, 06:15 PM   #22
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I always register my scripts with the WGA. Costs $20 and you can do it online. You don't have to be a member.
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