The Writer's Guild of America has its own website and can give you more detailed information than I'm giving you here. However, I'm asked so many questions about it, and I'm asked so frequently, that I'm going to post a few of the most common queries on this page. Hope it's helpful.
The Guild now accepts online registration of electronically submitted files. This rushes the process enormously!
Question: What does the Guild do?
Answer: The Guild performs many functions, but as a new writer the most important thing to know is that they register your work for a fee so that you have proof of when this story was written - by you.
Question: I'd rather copyright my work.
Answer: Hollywood likes to think they're dealing with those who 'know'. They don't care much about copyrights, but you should. Yes, indeed, go ahead and copyright it through the copyright office in Washington, D.C., if that's what you want to do. And then put that information in your desk drawer for further proof, if needed. BUT, to be accepted as a pro by the Hollywood community, register your script with the Writers Guild of America (east or west) and put the registration number they assign you on your cover page for proof positive that you're aware of how it's done in the industry.
Question: Can I register a treatment or should I wait until I've completed my screenplay to register it?
Answer: Register your treatment. You want to be able to prove that this was your story from the moment you got it on paper.
Question: But I'm not a member of the Guild. How can I register it?
Answer: You don't need to be a member in order to register your work.
Question: What if whoever reads it at the Guild doesn't like it? Will they register it anyway?
Answer: Nobody reads it. It's all automated. All they do is issue you a number.
Question: What if I do a lot of rewrites? Do I need to re-register it?
Answer: Keep in mind that all registering does is prove that you wrote this story on such-and-such a date. If the spine of the story remains the same, don't bother re-registering. If, however, the story was about a 90 year-old man in Ohio and suddenly you've made it into a story about a 17 year-old female in Paris, yes, you'd better re-register.
Question: How long will the protection last?
Answer: 5 years.
Question: Can I send it without the ending? I don't want anyone to steal my idea.
Answer: Like I say, it's all automated. Nobody reads it. Nobody gives a fig. They issue numbers.
Question: Why do I have to give them my social security number? I don't like giving that out.
Answer: The Guild requests your number for your own protection, to make doubly certain that the story they're protecting is YOUR story and no one else's. People can have identical names, but no one has your SS number but you.
Question: Do they have programs or contests for new writers?
Answer: The best. Go to their website and check out what's there.
Question: If someone does steal my idea, will the Guild represent me? Do they provide legal services?
Answer: They do provide legal services, but for their members only.
Question: Can I protect just my title, if I don't have the story written yet?
Answer: No. A title cannot be protected.
Question: Is my story idea protected?
Answer: No one can protect an 'idea'. What you're protecting is the spine of your story.
Question: What if I've written a story based on a real incident that's very well known ... Can I still protect it? Does that story belong to me?
Answer: The 'story' doesn't belong to you, but your VERSION of that story belongs to you. This is tricky territory. If you write about an incident that was in the papers or has had public exposure, then many people are aware of it. What you write is your INTERPRETATION of that event and you can protect that to a great extent. However, if someone comes along who never heard of that incident until they read your version ... they are certainly free to go out and do more research and come up with their own version, and then it's theirs. Again, that's why it's so important to register your work. To protect your version of it.
Send a copy (NOT an original) of your treatment, screenplay, book manuscript, or detailed outline, to: Writers Guild of America West, 7000 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Include a business size, stamped, self-addressed envelope, a cover letter stating your name, address, phone number, email address, Social Security Number, and a check or money order for $20. Do not send cash. Do not bind your material in any way.
In a few days you will receive a certificate bearing your registration number. Do NOT market your work without including proof of protection on your cover page. Just state in the lower left hand corner of your treatment or script cover sheet: Writers Guild of Amer-W and, under that, the number you were assigned.
LinksWriters Guild of America-West:
Screen Writers News: Front Page