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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – application tips for dramatic works

When registering a claim in a dramatic work using the online application, the applicant should select “Work of the Performing Arts” as the “Type of Work.” When registering a claim using a paper application, the applicant should complete Form PA.

If the dramatic work is a joint work, the applicant should name all of the joint authors and describe the contributions of each author, but should name only the authors who contributed copyrightable, tangible expression to the work. For instance, if one person contributed the story idea and a second person contributed the script, the applicant should name only the author of the script.

The applicant should clearly and accurately describe the author’s contribution to the work. When completing an online application, the applicant may select the boxes marked “text,” ”music,” “lyrics,” and / or “musical arrangement” in the Author Created field. If the author created the text that appears in the dramatic work, the applicant may describe that text by writing one or more of the following terms in the field marked Other.

  • Play
  • Script
  • Screenplay
  • Musical play
  • Adaptation
  • Dramatization
  • Treatment
  • Synopsis

These terms also may be used when completing the Nature of Authorship space on Form PA.

In all cases (draft), the applicant should use terms that describe the authorship that has been submitted for registration, rather than the applicant’s future plans for the work. For example, if the work is a treatment for a future motion picture, the applicant should state “treatment” not “motion picture.”

When completing this portion of the application, the applicant should avoid using ambiguous terms or terms that describe uncopyrightable material, such as:

  • Idea
  • Plot
  • Format
  • Characters
  • Stage directions

If the work is a derivative dramatic work or a compilation of dramatic works, and the underlying works are used with permission, the applicant should identify and exclude any preexisting work or material from the claim and should provide a brief description of the new material that the author contributed to the work.

When preparing an application to register a dramatization, an adaptation, or a revision the applicant should exclude the preexisting work from the claim by naming the author and title of the preexisting work. The new material may be described as a “dramatization,” “adaptation,” or “revision”. The registration specialist will communicate with the applicant if it appears that the author of the adaptation or dramatization unlawfully used a copyrighted work.

When preparing an application to register a translation of a dramatic work, the applicant should exclude the preexisting work from the claim by identifying the author and title of the preexisting work. The new work should be described as a “translation”.

Where a director submits an application to register a claim to copyright in the text of his or her stage directions, the registration specialist will communicate with the applicant to determine whether the copyright owner of the play gave the director permission to create a derivative work. If the copyright owner of the play did not grant permission, the specialist will refuse registration.

If the applicant confirms in writing that the copyright owner of the play granted permission to use the play as a basis for the derivative work, the specialist will register the claim in the text of the stage directions as a derivative work of the play, provided that the text is copyrightable. To avoid correspondence, the applicant should notify the Office if the author of the stage directions obtained permission to use the dramatic work as a basis for the derivative work.

To register a dramatic work with the U.S. Copyright Office, the applicant should deposit a copy or phonorecord of the work that is sufficient to identify the applicant’s claim to copyright in the dramatic work and to allow the Office to examine the work for copyrightable authorship.

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