Asked and Answered: Protecting your material when submitting to actors
Q: I recently met someone who connects writers to various well-known actors. He is neither an agent or a literary manager, but has worked on several fims in various producing capacities. What steps should I take to protect my script before giving it to this person to pass on to an actor? Should I ask him if he would sign a non-disclosure agreement or some other type of agreement? Is having the script registered with the WGA enough protection or should I also copyright the script?
A: The most important steps you can take to protect your script are: (1) register the copyright; (2) choose your business associates very carefully, and; (3) create a paper trail whenever you submit the material to anyone
Registration with the WGA is nice, but it is NOT a substitute for copyright registration. WGA registration DOES provide some evidence of the timeline (e.g., this script existed in this form, on this date). Copyright registration does that just as well, and much more. In the unfortunate event that you need to sue somebody for copyright infringement, you'll be required to register the copyright anyway, and if you did so within 90 days of the first ‘publication' of the work (i.e., first time circulated to others), you'll stand a better chance of winning an award of statutory damages and attorneys' fees. Without the early registration, you'll be hard pressed to find an attorney to represent you in your suit against the infringer.
Choose business associates wisely
While a nondisclosure agreement WOULD be a great idea, in practice, it's just not done, and asking for one will brand you as an amateur. So, if you're not going to have an NDA, make sure you're dealing with someone you can trust. Go ahead, check out the person's reputation before you hand over your material. I can't count the number of times I've had calls from writers who've had material misappropriated by ‘producers' whose reputations should have been a red flag. Nowadays a simple google search can reveal a great deal about a person. Why not investigate? A person who ‘connects writers to..actors” is usually either a producer (look for credits) or an Agent (Agents must be licensed). So, if your contact is neither, I'd advise caution. What's in it for this person? Have you discussed this?
Create a paper trail
OK, so you won't have an NDA, but that doesn't mean you can't do something to support the notion that there's some ‘agreement' or ‘confidential relationship' in place is important. Your query and cover letters should be written as carefully as your script. They should make it exceedingly clear that your submitting the material with the intention that you'll be paid if the recipient wishes to exploit it or the ideas it contains. If possible, try to get some kind of acknowledgement (even if it's just an email that says “I got it”).
It'll be hard to do this when the ultimate recipient is the Actor, and the producer is just a go-between… so ultimately, it comes down to trust, so being sure you're dealing with someone of good character can make all the difference.
Finally, have an experienced entertainment attorney available to watch out for you at the first sign of trouble.
This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for readers’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.
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