Whether it is a regular hobby or a maiden voyage, the script you have created with your talent, wit and hard work is worthy of protection. This article will serve as a guide for scriptwriters looking to protect their invaluable copyright.
What works will Copyright Law protect?
Firstly, the script you have written is the subject of copyright. You as the copyright owner have the exclusive right to do certain things to the script. Copyright protection was automatically vested in the script when you created it. Copyright is not like a trademark or patent where you have to take steps to register it to get the IP protection. If you wish to be prudent, though, you can register your script with the Australian Writers Guild (AWG). The AWG is a professional association that protects the interests of Australian performance writers of any experience level. Registering your script gives you indisputable proof of its existence and the date it was created. It may not prevent someone from actually stealing your work and using it but if they do, you will have valuable evidence if you need to take action for a breach of copyright.
Practical tips for Copyright protection
Once you get your script registered, you might want to start showing it around to potential buyers such as film production companies, broadcasters, funding agencies and the like. You need to make sure that your script is clearly marked with a ©, your name and date of creation. If you have had it registered, it is also a good idea to note your AWG registration number so people can clearly see you have taken steps to protect your copyright.
If you are fortunate enough to have a production company willing to consider your script, you may find this is conditional upon you signing a waiver or submission release. This document states that you will waive your rights to any claims for copyright infringement if the production company ever makes a film bearing any resemblance to your script. Many inexperienced writers are so grateful to be noticed that they will sign away their rights for the chance to see their script come to fruition. Besides waiving your rights to sue for copyright, the waiver will usually state that the production company will pay you if they use your script or a portion of it. While it is important for the production company to protect themselves (after all, they could fall victim to dishonest screenwriters suing them), it is also important for you to seek legal advice before you sign any form of waiver. In seeking impartial advice, you may decide to negotiate certain terms to try and protect yourself further. Otherwise, you may even find that it is not worth the risk, and you would be best off shopping your script around with other producers.
Waivers and Licences
Once you have got your script through the front door, a producer may come back with an offer to “option it”. To option your script to a producer means that you are granting them an exclusive right to develop the script. It is rare for a producer to purchase a screenplay outright. It is risky for them, so the option allows them to develop your script, be it securing the funds to produce it or finding a director and talent. The option will last for a particular period (the option period) and may also include the option to buy the script at an agreed price at the end of the option period. It will all be set out in the option agreement, which is usually complicated and lengthy. You will want to seek legal advice before entering the option agreement because it affects your rights in relation to your script. During the option period, you will not be allowed to show your script to anyone else because the producer pays for an exclusive right to develop it. You can seek compensation and protection in your option agreement for taking the script off the market. Also, because your script is a valuable asset, you can negotiate the price for granting the option and an eventual purchase price should the producer decide to make the film. You can also arrange to be the writer of any edits or re-writes and negotiate to retain the ownership in those edits and rewrites.
As a fledgling scriptwriter, there are numerous issues relating to your intellectual property. Nevertheless, knowing what you can do to protect your script, and having good legal advice when shopping it around, will help you to keep the focus on what you do best – witty, clever writing!