What's the copyright status of TV show scripts?
June 11, 2009 2:23 PM   Subscribe

What's the copyright status of TV show scripts? Not the original scripts themselves, but versions transcribed from the show as it was broadcast?

A Google search for "tv scripts" uncovers a lot of sites which publish transcriptions of TV shows. Most of them are obviously amateur, and aren't paying licensing fees or anything like that.

That suggests that it's either (1) legal, or (2) tolerated, but I'd like to know a little more before I proceed with a project. At least semi-informed opinions are preferable (no, you are not my lawyer).

posted by ixohoxi to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fox has chased down people for this. Fox has chased down people for fanfic. The degree of tolerance depends upon the owner, licensees, and the property.
posted by adipocere at 2:27 PM on June 11, 2009

Copyright law has a lot of grey areas, but I don't see how the copyright could belong to anyone other than whomever has the copyright for the original show. It's very clearly a derivative work, and I really doubt US law would see it as transformative enough to offset that.

Now whether a TV studio is going to take the trouble to track down and sue the people publishing the scripts is another story.
posted by lore at 2:35 PM on June 11, 2009

A certain infringement, and given how much is taken it would be hard to argue fair use. However, until a market develops for selling this legitimately I doubt they are going to be aggressive about stopping it. Plus it may even help build fan interest and sell more dvds of the shows etc.
posted by caddis at 2:41 PM on June 11, 2009

Best answer: You're actually asking two different questions, the first about scripts, the second about transcriptions.

Scripts, i.e. the pages printed for cast and crew, are obviously copyrighted, and reproducing them in any form would subject you to liability. This seems intuitively obvious.

But transcribing an airing of a show isn't doing that. Nonetheless, transcriptions can violate copyright too, but the copyright of the broadcast show, not the script itself. This is because derivative works are protected under 17 U.S.C. 106(2), even if the court doesn't construe them as copies as such.

It isn't really tolerated either. Publish something like that on the internet and odds are good you're going to get a nastygram from the relevant copyright owner's attorney. But copyright holders generally don't police these things very closely; they're trying to make new works and/or run a business, not scour the internet for random amateur transcribers. So if they learn about something, yeah, they'll probably try to stop you, but they may not go out of their way to find out.
posted by valkyryn at 2:43 PM on June 11, 2009

I know that closed captioning editors own the transcripts they create, and technically are entitled to residuals if someone requests copies of them (the transcripts, not the programming).
posted by bondgirl53001 at 5:59 PM on June 11, 2009

bondgirl53001 yes, but those editors have a license from the copyright owner, entitling them to engage in such activities. You can't just unilaterally decide to do something like that and expect to get away with it. Certainly not if you expect to make money doing it.
posted by valkyryn at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2009

You can't just unilaterally decide to do something like that and expect to get away with it. Certainly not if you expect to make money doing it.

That's what they said about YouTube. :)
posted by trevyn at 2:01 AM on June 12, 2009

Response by poster: Sounds like my project would probably end up being a lot of work that would just get lawyered out of existence. Oh, well. Thanks for the input.
posted by ixohoxi at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2009

Assuming the transcription matches even remotely closely the original script it would also infringe the script. Copyright law doesn't care if there is an intermediary in between the original and the copy. The recording industry is asserting its muscle here by claiming a right to the transcription, that it is in effect a derivative work of the recorded performance. However, the performance was an authorized derivative work in a way of the lyrics and it in no way transfers the copyright in the lyrics to the performer or the recording company. If it came down to a battle between the lyric author, the recording company who owned a copyright in the performance and the transcriber who transcribed the lyrics from the performance and put them on their website, and resources for litigation were not the issue, the lyric author should win the damages from the transcriber with the recording company getting little or nothing. I don't think such a case has been pursued. In any event, the transcriber is not in a good position.
posted by caddis at 2:58 PM on June 12, 2009

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