Asked & Answered: protection of work against foreign infringement

Q:  As most writer's work is filed with either the WGA or copyrighted through the USPTO, how does one protect their work from an overseas company asking to see your screenplay? As the United States' market seems to be tightening, it seems like producers and prodcos from other countries are much more receptive and open to looking at my work.

A:  Actually, filing with the WGA affords minimal protection against infringement.  It's more useful in establishing a writer's rights in a credit arbitration, etc.  Copyright registration is handled by the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress (The USPTO is the Patent and Trademark Office, and does not handle copyrights).

The good news for American writers is that the U.S. is signatory to the international copyright treaty, called the Berne Convention For The Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  Under the Berne Convention, all signatory nations must honor the copyrights of citizens of other signatory nations.  So, in most cases, submissions to foreign production companies present no greater risk than to U.S. companies.  The problem is that it may be harder and more expensive to pursue copyright infringement in foreign courts.  Also, there ARE some countries that haven't signed on to the Berne Convention,  so copyrights may not get the respect they deserve in those countries.  For a list of countries that ARE signatory, see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_international_copyright_agreements. If the company you're dealing with is from a country that's not on this list, think twice before sending them your material.

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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