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The world's greatest screenplay (and poor man's copyrighting)

He had written the world's greatest screenplay. It was a tender coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy (and his scruffy dog), wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of his mom and dad. It was full of existential angst, keen observations on adolescence and loneliness, and deep insights into the human psyche. It would change movies forever!

Well, maybe it wasn't the world's greatest screenplay. But after toiling on it for months, he thought it was good enough to have a chance in Hollywood. He just needed to get it into the hands of the right agent or production company. And he also needed to make sure some unscrupulous agent or production company intern didn't steal his fabulous screenplay and attempt to pass it off as their own.

Before mailing the screenplay out, he decided to mail himself a copy of the finished screenplay. After all, he had heard through the grapevine that mailing oneself a copy of the finished work was proof positive that you had a legally binding copyright in that work.

Later, he learned this technique is known as poor man's copyrighting. He also learned it does nothing to protect the copyright in one's work. As plainly stated by the U.S. Copyright Office, "there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection."

Instead, all original works of authorship are automatically copyrighted from the time they are created and “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” The work does not need to be registered with the Copyright Office to be protected as a copyrighted work.

However, you do need to register your work if you think you may someday need to sue for copyright infringement. You also need to register to take advantage of the statutory damages rule and to recover attorneys' fees following successful litigation.

Although copyright protection is automatic, you may still want to register your work to ensure its complete protection. An experienced entertainment law attorney can assist you with this process to help you ensure that your "world's greatest screenplay" gets the legal protection it deserves.

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