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WGA versus U.S. Copyright Office Registration

Screenwriters often question whether to register their scripts, frequently resulting in conflicting information.  I have heard various producers, agents and consultants give disparate advice, including “don’t bother,” “theft almost never happens,” “yes, register your script,” or “well, if you think you have a great idea.”

Nonsense. There is no question – register your script.

But the follow on question is, “Should I register with the WGA – the Writers’ Guild of America, or with the U.S. Copyright office?”

The answer depends on your battle strategy – and make no mistake, in the unlikely event you are a victim of copyright infringement – fighting to get your due is indeed a battle.

So would you rather go into battle with a loincloth and a sling, or a shield, sword and pointy weapons?

Your answer is clear – U.S. Copyright office registration.

While I wholly support the WGA and its great work, the fact is that WGA registration does only one thing – establish documentation of your authorship; that is, establish what you wrote as of what date.  Thus, the WGA registration is merely an improvement on the old “poor man’s copyright,” proof that as of a certain date, your work was written and in existence, therefore helping you  to prove that the work, or some copyright protectable element of the work, was stolen by some unoriginal, plagiarizing, neer-do-well, scumbag.  But that’s all the WGA registration offers – a witness to what you registered with them on a particular day.

U.S. Copyright office registration likewise establishes evidence of authorship as of the registration date.  However, with Copyright office registration come the weapons of “statutory damages” and potential recovery of attorney’s fees.

Statutory damages are a big deal – even if the copyright holder has suffered no provable damages, the infringer can be made to pay statutory damages of up to $150,000 (§ 504). And beyond that, the infringer may be made to pay attorney’s fees, in the judge’s discretion (§ 505).

These significant benefits only result from registration with the U.S. Copyright office (§ 412).  And they do not result from registration with the WGA.

While the copyright holder must still prove infringement – a difficult task to be sure, these statutory remedies are powerful weapons afforded works registered with the U.S. Copyright office – and for about the same price as WGA registration.

So – thou shalt register thine creative works. And thou shalt register them with the U.S. Copyright office.