Most posts in the Production 101 series require a deep breath before diving into them, and this one is no different.
While copyright in the United States is technically awarded “at the moment of creation” of something, that really matters very little to the commercial world of any financially meaningful means of media distribution.
An aside, none of this really matters if you’re not ever going to distribute commercially *and* won’t ever have a need for Errors and Omissions Insurance. E&O in media specifically is an insurance against getting sued for not having properly cleared certain parts of your media. Most specifically it applies to insuring against lawsuits from musicians, people appearing in your film, or other people who may claim your film was their idea.
You can only get insurance policies for this kind of coverage if you’ve properly done all the contracts and releases for your media, and the aforementioned elements (though some distributors will require you to go further in certain cases).
The very first item on the list if you ever go to apply for E&O, or to commercially show or distribute your work on any medium or large commercial network (cable, satellite, etc), will to prove you own the copyright for the property. And not just you, but specifically, the corporate entity that owns the copyright with whom the potential distributor is doing a deal. I’m assuming here you’ve got an LLC or other entity you’re already using to limit your own liabilities.
So, if you’re in the US, you go to Copyright.gov, get the right forms, and fill it out, send it in first with a copy of your script. Make sure you’ve assigned the copyrights themselves to the company you’ve set up. This is as simple as typing up Blank Assignment of Copyright that says you assign the copyright of your “titled” piece to the “name of the company,” and date and sign it. I’ve actually included a sample doc you’re welcome to use.
Then you also send in a description of the copyrighted media. Blank Copyright Description
And lastly, if you need to reassign the copyright to another entity or person for any reason over the life of the intellectual property, you can use: Blank Transfer of Copyright Agreement
These documents are going to at the top of the list for commercial exploitation of your media, and once you understand the principles behind them, it’s really not that complicated; though I’ll admit it’s a bit of a pain-in-the-butt. I’ll follow this up in a couple of weeks with the other parts of satisfying the maze of requirements for delivering a film or media project to a commercial distributor that includes things like location, appearance, and materials releases, and music cue sheets.
Lastly, footnote: I am not a lawyer, and my posts shouldn’t be considered substitutes for professional legal advice, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your rights.