We don’t talk much about TV here at Script Gods, so it’s overdue I mention a blog that Chad Gervich writes for at Scriptmag.com. This is run by Script Magazine/Final Draft company and is an authoritative source of information for anyone looking to break into the field of TV writing.
Chad ran the Writer’s Digest Script Notes blog before taking over the Script Magazine blog. He’s a straight shooter with years of experience as a Creative TV Producer. He doesn’t pull punches, writing with a snappy, informative style.
For instance here, when talking about copyrighting your work:
“First of all, let’s get one thing straight…
You can not copyright or protect– in any way– your ideas.
Ideas are not copyright-able. Only the execution of an idea is copyright-able.
Now, if you’d already written a script or treatment… and you could prove that they stole your plot, characters, lines of dialogue… you might have a case. But the idea itself—”boy befriends lost chupacabra”—is not yours. Even if you discussed it with people… you DO NOT OWN THE IDEA. You own only your execution.
Now… can you protect your “execution,” your script or treatment? Possibly.
But here’s another thing to understand…
Obtaining a copyright, or a WGA registration, does NOT guarantee protection of intellectual property.
A copyright or WGA registration simply provides a piece of EVIDENCE as to when and where you first held ownership of your material.
So if you registered or copyrighted your script on June 4, 2011, it does not mean that as of June 4, 2011, your script is protected. It means you have one piece of evidence saying that on June 4, 2011, this particular piece of intellectual property was in your possession.
…And that piece of evidence may or may not be enough to convince a court of law you yourself created this particular intellectual property.
In fact, a screenplay or piece of literature is “copyrighted” the instant you commit it to paper; it doesn’t technically need to be officially copyrighted or registered… but those things help if you need to prove your timeline in a court of law.
However, as my lawyer-friend says, you could just as easily mail yourself the script in a sealed envelope on June 4, 2011… never open it until you’re in court… and, thanks to the postmark, prove you had the script on June 4. (I had always heard this “poor man’s copyright” was bogus and ineffectual, but she says nothing is 100 percent effectual or ineffectual… it’s all just potential evidence helping to prove when you executed your idea on paper.)
The point is… if you should need to prove, legally, that you created a script, treatment, story, or other type of “creative execution” before someone else, you must prove at least a couple things:
1) That your execution and their execution are identical or similar enough to suggest actual theft
2) That you possessed your “execution” before they did. If you copyright or register your chupacabra script on June 4, 2011… but they produce a June 2 email with their chupacabra script attached… you’ll have a much tougher time proving you wrote the original script. The fact that you obtained an official copyright or WGA registration does NOT mean you have protection or a more powerful piece of evidence.
And in order to prove those things, you need evidence. …Which is what copyrights, WGA registration, and sealed envelopes all offer. Not protection… just potential pieces of evidence.
So the real question is…
Is it worth it to WGA-register or copyright your work?
Well… if registering or copyrighting your scripts or treatments gives you piece of mind… go for it. (WGA registration is $20; copyright filing is $35.) The truth is: I think a lot of people like registering their script with the Guild simply because it seems cool; it makes them seem like a “real” screenwriter– “Hey, my script is registered with the Writers Guild!” So if you wanna do it– pay your $20 and feel good.
Never—I repeat: NEVER—put your WGA registration or copyright number, or even a ©, on your script when sending it to a studio, network, agency, or producer.
It is a HUGE red flag, screaming, “I’m not ready for the professional world—don’t take me seriously!” Why?…
Because there is no bigger sign of an amateur than someone who’s worried about their stuff being stolen.
Now, I can’t speak as much to the film world, but I’m a firm believer that in the TV world, MATERIALS DO NOT GET STOLEN.
Newbies like to think they do… and everyone thinks they have a story of how someone stole their pitch… or a friend who got their script ripped off… but those people are—99% of the time—DEAD WRONG.
Firstly, it is nearly impossible, in the world of TV, to steal a script or idea from the writer. Why?…
Because TV shows work very differently than movies.
A movie is a “finite” piece of work. It happens once… it’s over… it can never be repeated or continued. So when a screenwriter writes a script, it’s sold to a producer or studio and handed to a director; the writer rarely stays involved.
But this can’t happen in television.”
What I like about Chad is that he doesn’t back off from the controversial. One of his posts recently caused a stir, the subject of which I’ll be writing about shortly: Why You Shouldn’t Use A Script Coverage Service.