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Should you copyright your script before you start selling it?

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While Hollywood has done magnificent job packing movie theatres across the globe for the past 100 years, it has done an even better job of selling itself to the world. From sandy beaches to sunshine to that quintessential California lifestyle, Hollywood has perfected the art of self-branding to the point where, every year, aspiring actors, screenwriters and directors show up on busses with nothing more than the clothes they have on their back. They soon learn that they are completely ill prepared for what Hollywood truly is, a cutthroat business town that chews up and spits out those that aren’t ready to defend themselves. It is for this reason and a million more than you should consider copywriting your script before you catch the next bus headed west to make your fortune in Tinsel town.

For those people that have done a bit of research on their own, they may believe that copyright is inherent in any written material, and while an antiquated 1889 law does provide some legal protection, you will be much better off getting a full copyright on your script before you begin to show it to people who may or may not be honest. Known as the Berne Convention, this international copyright treaty has helped writers protect their creations for over a century stating that copyright is essentially automatic as soon as you put pen to paper, but as legal wrangling and court rulings have chipped away at the original intent, further proof of copyright is now needed to truly protect one’s interests.

For far too many years, urban legends have given false hope that one’s creations are protected from intellectual theft. Almost everyone has heard of the easy and inexpensive ritual of simply mailing yourself a copy of your script, or of anything else you’ve created, and then storing away the unopened envelope and using the indelible postmark as irrefutable proof that your creation was made on the date certified. In reality, this practice accomplishes nothing other than wasting postage. There is no proof whatsoever that you didn’t just mail yourself an empty envelope and then store it away for future use. Your script could have been written yesterday and then inserted into the postmarked envelope and presented to the court. If you’re thinking about using this method to protect your copyright, no court of law on earth will accept it.

If you insist on showing your script around town without an official government copyright, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Keep flawless records of each and every person you show your script to and have them sign a simple release form that states they will not and can not use any ideas, characters, etc, from it in any form. A good sign that you’re dealing with a reputable Hollywood producer and not someone looking to take advantage of you is that they won’t even look at your script without signing one of these releases. Remember, no one else in Hollywood is going to protect you, you must protect yourself.

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