Screenwriters Association: The Most Efficient Copyright Protection For Script Writers

Screenwriters Association (SWA), formerly known as Film Writers Association (FWA) is a registered trade union of writers, that include scriptwriters and lyricists, for films, TV, audio formats, digital media, etc. who are above 18 years of age and reside within the boundary of the Union of India. The principal objective of this association is to encourage and secure the interests of the screenwriters who are registered in their association, while also providing them with dispute settlement assistance against producers, directors, and distributors through their Dispute Settlement Committee (DSC) which has been effectively functioning for around 2 decades.

The Script Writers and lyricists need to understand that the written script and screenplay need to be protected by way of copyright. It is also important to understand that the owner of the copyright is not necessarily the originator of that idea, rather the one who gives concrete form to that idea, for instance, writing a book or making a film or television, etc. It doesn’t matter if the idea is original; copyright will only exist if one is the creator of the work and not merely the originator of that idea. Hence, this is where SWA comes into the picture to help in registering the script/lyrics before it is narrated to the producers, directors, production house, etc. The registration of the scripts is not expensive and is advised in order to have a preventive measure; in case of a dispute relating to its ownership arises. Needless to say, the acquisition of the copyright is automatic upon its creation and hence it is not a compulsory obligation to register your work in SWA, but in case of a dispute of ownership, the courts would consider the certificate of registration as the prima facie evidence.

SWA provides registration for the following categories- Synopsis, Story, Script, Screenplay, Dialogue, Song, and Mukhda. In order to register your script/lyrics with the SWA, it is necessary for the author to first become a member of the SWA and then register their work either at the SWA office in Mumbai or online. Non-members of the association cannot register their work with the SWA. The registration process of scripts and lyrics with the SWA is recognized and abided by the entire film fraternity that includes the film industry and the other film association bodies. In production and narration of the script to the directors and production houses, the SWA strictly maintains that only the registered softcopies should be shared so as to protect the work from any copyright infringement. In general practice, any such narration is usually made with a non-disclosure agreement so that there is no breach but with the registration certificate of the SWA, this has further strengthened the rights of the author of the script.

SWA has a better footing in providing assistance in case of copyright infringement and contractual issues of its member’s work, than other methods of copyright protection, owing to its strong and dedicated dispute settlement committee. However, the DSC could only help in copyright infringement of the work that has been registered with SWA and on the submission of adequate proof of such infringement or theft. There are various rights of a screenwriter/lyricist such as a fair contract with the production houses, respectable remuneration as per Industry standards, freedom of speech, due recognition, and appropriate royalties. The DSC helps its members in case of a breach of any of the rights mentioned above and also provides assistance in legal proceedings.

The alternative method to protect your script from copyright infringement is by registering it with the registrar of Copyrights in the Copyright Office in Delhi. This is a very common form of copyright protection and most of the scriptwriters engage in this owing to the fact that it is way more cost-effective than the SWA since there are a very minimal fee and no need of becoming a member, and the author could just register the work, without a hassle of membership registration like in the SWA. There’s also another option of creating copyright protection of scripts, called the poor man’s copyright, in which the author seals the script and mails it to himself through a registered post. The sealed envelope, date of the registry, and the receipt will collectively serve as proof of copyright, as evidence, on that particular date.

Although it is not absolutely necessary to register your script with the SWA, in order to publish your work in films and TV and become a professional screenwriter; it is nonetheless strongly advisable, since it is the most efficient and professional way to function and most of the producers, directors and production houses would find the work more legitimate if registered with SWA, since they themselves are a part of this. Moreover, it would also help in case of any theft or copyright infringement of the work, the fall-out in remuneration and credits with the producers and directors, etc. as the DSC would provide assistance in the legal process throughout, with minimal or no costs.

Author:  Sudhansu Sahoo, Legal Associate at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates, and IP Attorneys.  In case of any queries please contact/write back to us at support@ipandlegalfilings.com

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