Q: I am a Canadian who wrote a screenplay and registered it for US copyright. I have been writing query letters and submitting the screenplay to producers around the world—including to a few producers in another country who expressed interest in reading it. Since copyright registration of a few years ago, I have made revisions and even changed the title more than once. However, the original element/story about a cross-cultural relationship remains intact.
1) To what degree would the original copyright protect the latest revision? Would it depend on how much or materially the story has changed? If so, is there a guideline to determine the threshold of changes whereby a new registration would be warranted?
2) I chose a US copyright thinking it would protect the world's most lucrative, copyright-protected, movie market. However, it occured to me, hypothetically speaking, if someone were to take the story and have it made elsewhere in the world and kept it in markets outside of the U.S., essentially I would have no protection. That is, my U.S. copyright is only good against infringement within the U.S—is that correct?
A: 1) Copyright protection is independent of the registration. Revisions are a part of the creative process, so you probably wouldn't be barred from suing if someone infringes your work. BUT, if the infringement covers ONLY portions of the work that showed up in revisions AFTER the registration, (such as new scenes, dialogue, etc) you COULD have problems with the suit. (theoretically, at least. I'm not aware of any precedent that has actually decided this question). Still, registering the new version from time-to-time is worthwhile, since it also helps establish the chain of title, which will be required when you sell the property. This is especially true since the title has been changed. One of the values of copyright registration is that it provides a way for people to investigate the ownership of a particular work. If someone conducts a search for the new title, and can't find it, they may not have enough information on which to search for the earlier title. Again, given the relatively low cost of registering a copyright, I think it's worthwhile to update it from time to time, just to be safe. Unfortunately, I can't give you a minimum “threshold”, it's a judgment call you have to make.
2) No, Copyright is the subject of an international treaty called the “Berne Convention“. The U.S. joined the Berne Convention in 1989. The treaty requires its signatories to recognize the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries (known as members of the Berne Union) in the same way as it recognises the copyright of its own nationals. For example, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created. Most, but not all, countries are signatory to this treaty, (See the map in the wikipedia entry linked above), but for most, the protection afforded by registration in one country is sufficient.
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