Friday, September 10, 2004

The Writers Guild Registration Myth

This post should be read as if it were written by a man who has momentarily escaped his captors and is taking the precious few moments he has before being captured to tell you something very important.

Listen children and heed my word.

Writer's Guild Registration does not prove authorship.

I'll say that again.

Writer's Guild Registration does not prove authorship!

Why have I broken out of my rewrite cage to tell you this?

Because, dear readers, if I hear one more dingbat tell me that Writer's Guild registration is all one needs, I will most certainly go insane.

Some of you, I'm sure at this point, have no idea what I'm talking about.

The Writers Guild (the union Screenwriters belong to) has a registration service where they'll stamp your work with a date, toss it into their archives, and give you a certificate.

Most people I run into, I'm afraid, believe this is substantial for protecting their work.

They're wrong.

They'll pull out books that state they're right.

Those books are wrong, and were themselves written by dingbats.

The people who wrote those books aren't Lawyers, (and neither am I). But if you want to read a book that is by a Lawyer, then I suggest The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to) by Brooke A. Wharton.

And if you want to be as careful as possible, then I suggest actually finding some lawyers and consulting one.

That being said, my primary goal here is dispose of a myth. So enough with the ranting. Let's get to my point.

Writer's Guild Registration only proves completion date. That's it!

So what's it for?

Back in the old days, a great way to rip off a writer was to claim he or she hadn't finished their work on time. Since the writer's deadline was usually part of their contract, the producer could thus claim the writer was in violation of this contract and not pay them as much.

And so, Writer's Guild Registration began.

Now, when Mr. Slimey Producer says you're in violation of your deadline, you can shove you registration certificate in his face and have your attorney call him.

But remember what I said:

Writer's Guild Registration only proves completion date.

While it may say that the script was registered at a particular time, it does not however say who wrote it. It does not prove authorship.

So, then how does one prove authorship in the USA?

By registering your copyright with the Library of Congress, that's how.

This is where some dingnut screams, "But everything you write automatically has copyright from the moment it's written down!"

Yes. That's true. You're very smart. Shaddup.

Yes, your work has copyright from the moment it's written down, but you can't do anything with that copyright until it has been registered.

So how do you register?

Go to the Library of Congress's website, find the proper form, and do what it says. The last time I checked, screenplays used the PA form, but that could have changed.

Once you're registered, you're protected. Good job.

A lot of new writers will point out that they run into Producers all the time who scream that they won't read anyone's work until it is registered with the Writers Guild.

Personally, I wouldn't work with a producer who said this. At the very worst, it means they're a crook who preys on new writers, because new writers are usually desperate and don't know any better. And at best, these producers simply feel that guild registration is enough "protection" for their own purposes. After all, I'm sure they have a lot more money to spend on lawyers than the newbie writer who's suing them.

So remember, kids, register your copyright with the Library of Congress. Writers Guild registration has its purposes, but proving authorship is not one of them.