How to Copyright a Movie Script

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

How to Copyright a Movie Script

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

Writing a movie script requires using your imagination and writing skills to create settings, characters, plots, and dialogue that work to evoke moods and emotions in the reader. After you've invested all that time and brain power in a movie script, you probably want to ensure that copyright law protects it. Copyright is a form of legal protection for intellectual property that grants the authors exclusive rights to perform, reproduce, and sell such works. It also allows them to prevent unauthorized third parties from using their creation.

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How to Register a Movie Script's Copyright

Copyright law automatically protects your script the moment you create it and fix it in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device; an idea for a movie is not protectable. A version of the script written or printed on paper would be a directly perceptible tangible form, and a digital version qualifies as a tangible form perceptible with a machine. Copyright protects movie scripts for a long time: the life of the author plus 70 additional years. If a script has multiple writers, each of them is an author of the work, and the copyright's duration is the lifetime of the longest surviving author plus 70 years.

Follow these three steps to register your movie script for copyright protection.

1. Complete the correct registration form.

The U.S. Copyright Office considers movie scripts to be works of performing arts, rather than literary works. You can register of a work of performing arts by submitting Form PA. You can use Form PA even if the script has multiple authors and their contributions to the work are different.

If your movie script has only one author and does not incorporate or adapt a pre-existing work, you can use the simpler version of Form PA, Short Form PA, to register your script.

2. Pay the registration fee.

All applications for copyright registration involve paying a fee. Filing electronically is cheaper than filing an application on paper, and there's an even lower fee for an electronic application for a single work with a single author. U.S. Copyright Office Circular 4 provides information about the current registration fee and other costs.

3. Submit required deposits.

With any application to register a work of performing arts, you must submit deposit material, the definition of which differs depending on whether you publish your work prior to submitting your application. In this case, "publication" refers to distributing your work for purposes of selling it to the public or performing it publicly.

  • Unpublished work. If your script is unpublished when you submit your application, the required deposit is a complete copy of the script, which can be a digital file. A paper copy of an unpublished script would be another permitted version of the deposit, but the U.S. Copyright Office prefers digital submissions.
  • Published work. If you have already published the script when you submit the application, you must submit the best edition of the published work. Scripts that are available only in digital form require a deposit of the digital file. Scripts published in both digital and paper form require a deposit of two copies of the tangible, paper version.

Copyright Notice

Although no longer required by law, placing a copyright notice on the tangible or digital versions of your movie script is another way to inform the world that you own the rights in your creative work. Copyright notice typically contains three elements:

  • Copyright symbol, "©"
  • Author's name
  • The year you first published the work

For example: © John Smith 2018. The Copyright Office provides more detailed advice regarding how and when to use copyright notices (Circular 3).

If you want to learn more about copyright protection for your movie script, you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office website and follow these steps for registration.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.