VIRGINIA JPEGTracy from Virginia asks:

Could you give us an idea of how to protect our budding “masterpieces”? After it’s written, and we’re mentally preparing ourself for the forthcoming fame (:) Is it best to try for an agent first (aiming for reputable with bona fide published works out there) and if your astronomically lucky to get one, how does that work? Do you pay them to represent you, or is their pay based on the level of success of the book – pushing them harder to get it out there? Do you just send it to them, or somehow get copyrights of it being yours before anyone sees it? Help!

You are mixing several different issues and I will straighten them out for you.

First, do not hire an agent that charges you a fee. WGA signatory agents are prohibited from doing so and no reputable agent does so. Some agents try to charge you for costs. I would try to avoid even that. See Agents Charging Costs. Better agents are sufficiently capitalized that they do not need to charge you anything until they sell your script or get you a writing assignment.

Second, do not just send the script to agents. They will not read it. The script will be tossed on a pile with the million other anonymous scripts that were mailed in and, eventually, it will be tossed out. You should not submit your script to an agent until you are invited to do so. The best way to get an agent is by referral. If you are not from Los Angeles or New York, there are still a number of techniques you can use to get an agent. See The Out-Of-Towners.

Third, regarding copyright, you own the copyright from the moment you create your script. It automatically springs into existence and it is yours. Of course, if you begin to share your work, you will need to prove that you created it and when you did so. There are several ways to do this. One is to register the copyright with the Copyright Office. Another is to register it with the WGA. The third way is to simply include a cover letter with your script whenever you submit it and send the script by overnight mail so you have a record of having sent it. Keep a copy of the cover letter and the mail receipt. I recommend doing this irrespective of whether you register your script. See My Idea Got Stolen.

Hope this helps.


  1. Hey there,

    I’m curious whether there are any particular advantages or disadvantages to registering with the WGA versus the Copyright Office.

    I’ve heard that there are several legal reasons why the Copyright Office route might offer greater protection: registration with them being a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit; the availability of statutory damages and atty. fees; and the issue of prima facie evidence of ownership, allowing the possibility of injunctive relief. I am not, however, a copyright or entertainment attorney, so I’m not sure if these reasons are accurate.

    On the flip side, I once was given the advice that I should only register with the WGA, because if a script is registered with the Copyright Office, certain rights must be transferred in the process of any sale, which can take many months and has been known to squash a deal on more than one occasion. This seems specious to me. I had assumed that the author’s rights in any script would have to be transferred in the process of any sale, regardless of whether the Copyright Office or WGA had been used to publically register those rights.

    Any chance you could cast some light on this? I’m sure that practically speaking, it likely won’t ever be an issue for most of us, and I’m not the type to worry about idea theft, but I’m curious about the legal issues here. Thanks!

  2. whl:

    While I have run across vague claims that a copyright registration can deter a script sale, I have never actually run across anyone who had a problem with it. I have never heard it come up from agents, managers or producers nor has it ever come up in my own experience as a producer, nor as a writer, nor as an attorney representing other writers. Potential buyers have never even mentioned it. Until someone can introduce me to someone who actually lost a legitimate deal because he or she registered an original script with the copyright office, I have to consider this urban myth. The process of transferring a copyright is straightforward and simple and not likely to deter a studio that really believes in the project. As for the advantages of copyright vs. WGA registration, you are absolutely correct. I think I covered it in some previous entries on this blog.

    Irrespective of how you register your script or whether you do so, the most important thing is to keep good records of your submissions. Use cover letters and mail receipts, and keep track of who has it. And, remember, these are just some basic practices to get into. Much more important is to focus on the quality of the writing. Without that, the rest is unimportant.

  3. P.S. I didn’t realize who you are until after I posted my response. You probably don’t need the admonition about focusing on the writing quality (nor the legal advice, for that matter)….

  4. Well, as an attorney, I’ve been asked this question by a few writer friends, and while I’ve been able to offer them a legal analysis of the issue, it’s always bothered me that I couldn’t definitively confirm or deny the truth of that copyright transferal issue. Having you say that it has never come up in your experiences as a writer, producer and attorney is enough for me to consider the issue resolved for my purposes. So I greatly appreciate your advice.

    And as far as the admonition to focus on the quality of the writing, I think that we all can never hear that message too often. Thanks, as always, for the helpful post and timely response.

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