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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – fixation and types of dramatic works

Types of Dramatic Works

A stage play is a story prepared for production in a theater (i.e., to be performed on a stage for a live audience). The script generally includes instructions for performers and scenery.

Musical plays are works that consist of music and dramatic material where the music is an integral part of the dramatic work, as opposed to incidental music that is merely intended to accompany the dramatic work. Examples of musical plays include musicals, operas, and operettas.

A screenplay is a script prepared for production in a motion picture. It generally includes textual instructions for performers, sets, and camera.

A teleplay is a script prepared for broadcast on television. It generally includes textual instructions for performers, sets, and camera.

A radio play is a script prepared for broadcast on radio.

Precursors of dramatic works generally are written in advance of the dramatic work and may or may not contain the characteristic authorship elements of dramatic works. Examples include treatments and synopses. To be copyrightable, these types of works must contain sufficient original expression.

A synopsis is a summary of the major plot points and description of the characters in a play or other dramatic work, generally consisting of at least a page or two of text. A registration for a synopsis extends to the text of the synopsis submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office, but it does not extend to the completed dramatic work or the idea for the dramatic work.

A treatment is a written description of a dramatic work or television show, which outlines and describes the scenes and/or characters and often includes sample dialog. A treatment is generally longer and more detailed than a synopsis. A registration for a treatment extends to the text of the treatment submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office, but it does not extend to the idea, subsequent versions of the script, or a completed television series.

Fixation of Dramatic Works

To be copyrightable, dramatic works, including improvised works, must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. A registration for a dramatic work extends only to the work that has been submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. Dramatic works may be embodied either in copies or phonorecords.

Copies of dramatic works, including any accompanying music, include the following:

  • Hard copy formats, including handwritten or printed scripts, DVDs, and videotapes.
  • Electronic formats (e.g., .txt, .pdf, .mov) embodied in compact discs, digital video discs, flash drives, hard drives, and other digital file storage devices.

A non-audio digital file that is uploaded to the Office’s server in support of an electronic registration application is a copy for registration purposes.

Phonorecords of dramatic works, including any accompanying music, include the following:

  • Hard copy audio formats, including but not limited to CDs and tapes.
  • Electronic audio formats (e.g., wav, mp3, wma) embodied in compact discs, digital video discs, flash drives, hard drives, and other digital file storage devices.

A digital audio file that is uploaded to the Office’s server in support of an electronic registration application is a phonorecord for registration purposes.

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