Is Any Change Too Much Change?
January 13, 2021 8:23 PM   Subscribe

I have completed a script. I want to submit it for copyright, and don't foresee any major changes to it, either in terms of its ultimate message or specific wording or structural layout. BUT, if I do have to make changes after it has been copyrighted, how much change can I make to it before I must apply for a new copyright?
posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (9 answers total)
The work is copyrighted as soon as it’s fixed in tangible form. Why submit it?
posted by adamrice at 8:37 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Assuming U.S., and I am not a lawyer. You don't have to "submit" for copyright. You automatically have copyright on a work you created. Just put "Copyright (c) 2021 CollectiveMind" on it. That's literally all you need to do. Actually, I think you do not even need to do that, but doing that is a good idea. You can register a copyright, as you propose, but it's probably not worth it at this point, in my (non-lawyer) opinion.

When I was a kid, me and my brother and my dad invented a game, and wrote up rules, and registered a copyright, and mailed ourselves a copy by registered mail so as to be able to prove at some later date that we invented this thing at such and such date, and all this kind of rigamarole, and sent it off to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers and all that kind of crap, and we got back letters that said, "We didn't look at any of this, we are so not interested that we didn't even look at this, go away."

Overly aggressive copyright machinations may be a red flag to any buyers you may be courting.

(And you should probably ignore me because I mostly don't actually know what I'm talking about.)
posted by smcameron at 8:40 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

In the U.S., you have to apply for trademark or patent protection, but copyright is automatic. You can register your work, and you might want to do so for various reasons, but the work that you register doesn’t get extra or special copyright protections. So if you rewrote it or something, that new version would generally have its own, separate copyright protection (with you as owner, unless you had some agreement with someone else). The extent to which your rewrite would be a new work or a derivative is pretty complicated, but probably not important unless and until you sell or license your work, at which point you’d need to have professional help sorting out what you wanted to do.
posted by skewed at 8:42 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

You can register your copyright, but that's mostly useful for published works. If you're shopping a script you're already good.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:50 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Here's what the US Copyright Office says about changes:
How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?

You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative, something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration, but adding an additional chapter would. See Circular 14, Copyright Registration in Derivative Works and Compilations, for further information.
posted by zompist at 9:22 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Why submit it?

Because automatic copyright entities you to actual damages if someone misuses your creation whereas registering it entitles you to statutory damages. I don't know the film industry that well but in the areas of copyright where I do have experience, creatives are very often advised to register their works if they think there's any reasonable chance someone might infringe on the work. Just proving what actual damages are, especially if it's something like lifting a few scenes rather than the entire thing, often isn't worth the legal fees to do so.

we got back letters that said, "We didn't look at any of this, we are so not interested that we didn't even look at this, go away."

This is pretty common, even for adults - companies often put firewalls between the fan correspondence and creative staff just to reduce the chance of inadvertently infringing on someone's copyright or accidentally coming up with something close enough to merit suspicion. There's a couple episodes of the Simpsons where they talk about paying off someone that sent in a somewhat similar script even though they thought the similarities were honest coincidence because there was enough crossing of the streams that it was cheaper to negotiate ahead of time than risk losing a lawsuit.
posted by Candleman at 12:02 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

WGA registry might be more helpful, if this is a script for film or TV.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:24 AM on January 14

A perhaps unnecessary additional thought: copyright covers original expressions in permanent form. Not ideas, plots, titles. And the courts have found there to be little if any copyright protection for cliché.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:22 AM on January 14

2nding the WGA. Some places won't read scripts with copyright marked on them. It's sort of considered unprofessional.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:11 PM on January 15

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