Following Wscripted’s panel conversation about copyright, here is a recap to help you understand your rights as a copyright owner and how to protect your literary work.
WHAT WORK IS PROTECTED UNDER COPYRIGHT LAW
While the concept of copyright or intellectual property differs between countries, remember that an idea is never protected by copyright. Your work is automatically protected by copyright law if it is an original expression and is fixed in a tangible medium (such as on paper, film, canvas, saved on a computer).
WHY REGISTER MY COPYRIGHT
It is very important to register your work to have a proof of your copyrighted work in case of a copyright infringement. You should register the version of your work (screenplay, manuscript, play) that is developed, in the country where you are a resident. It is advisable to register your work before sending it to third parties for consideration such as producers, agents, festivals…etc
In the US, it is necessary to register your copyright with the US copyright office as it is the only body that is recognized and gives you what you need under law. You won’t be able to file your copyright infringement claim without your certificate from the US copyright office. Registration not only allows you to bring a copyright infringement action but also grants you the right to get back statutory damages for up to $150,000 plus your attorneys’ fees, if you prevail. In Canada, France or other European countries, you don’t need to register your work, but it is advisable to file with your local bodies (Canadian Copyright Office, SACD in France, Registro de la Propiedad Intelectual in Spain, SIAE in Italy) to keep a proof of your work in case of litigation. The UK and Germany don’t have a copyright registration governmental body.
If you register your work in the US, Canada or the EU, your copyright will be recognized and protected in all the signatory countries of the Burn convention.
If you are a US-based writer, you can register your script, play or manuscript with the US Copyright Office online via Wscripted’s partner Cosynd. The application takes minutes and costs $25 per application (+ federal filing fees). You can start a registration application here. For questions about copyright registration outside of the US, you can contact Wscripted at email@example.com
If your work is based on a pre-existent work which is not in the public domain, you need to seek permission with the original author to make a derivative work or to adapt it before you register your work and claim full ownership of the work with the copyright office and before sharing it with third parties (seek legal counsel for material releases, estate approvals, life rights…etc).
WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS
If you are based in the US, UK or Canada, you own exclusive rights to your work that you can assign or license individually or in a bundle. These rights are the right to copy, distribute, create derivative works (only in the US), translate, adapt, sell or exhibit. In the US, you can be hired for a writing assignment as a freelancer under the “work for hire” provision, which assigns full copyright ownership of your work to the employers. This notion doesn’t exist in Canada nor in European territories (except if the work is made in the course of employment).
In France and other European countries, authors can assign and license patrimonial rights: the rights of reproduction and representation.
AM I PROTECTED BY MORAL RIGHTS
If you have created copyrightable work, and are a resident of Canada or a European country, your work is protected by an added layer called moral rights. Thanks to moral rights, you can protect your work by deciding when the work can be made public, being untitled to a credit every time the work is used, objecting to a modification of the work, preventing a third party to distribute the work or stopping the representation of the work.
In France, Germany, Spain and Italy, moral rights are perpetual, unalienable, cannot be licensed and are automatically passed on to the successor of the author. In Canada and the UK, moral rights cover all of the above, with the exception that moral rights can be waived, and they only exist for the duration of the copyright plus 70 years after the death of the author, after which the rights fall into the public domain, similarly to US copyright law. Moral rights don’t exist in the US, except for works made by visual artists such as sculptures, paintings…etc
THE GOLDEN RULE BEFORE SIGNING CONTRACTS
Remember that everything that is discussed and that you understand about the deal must be in writing and reflected in the contract: from your compensation, your credit, your required approvals, the economic rights you decide to grant the third party to the duration of the contract. While moral rights prevail on contractual agreements in France, it is not the case in the US, Canada and the UK. Always get independent legal advice to draft or negotiate your contracts to make sure all your rights are properly granted and you are protecting your work at its optimum in case of future litigations.
As a writer, you should work with a lawyer when negotiating shopping agreements, purchase or option agreements and publishing agreements.
To work with entertainment legal counsel, you can contact Maria Miles if you are based in the US, or Naomi Zener if you are based in Canada.