Bectu’s Script Registration Scheme – what it is and how it works

Some years ago, Bectu established a Script Registration Scheme to provide some protections that are not available because of a gap in the concept of Copyright.

The scheme offers some protection to someone who has come up with a concept that hasn’t yet been developed into something that can be protected by copyright in a conventional way.

The APC Code of Practice

You can copyright and assign ownership to lots of things. Jo Bloggs can write anything on a bit of paper and then say “this document is copyright of Jo Bloggs 2022 – all rights reserved.”

The problem comes with enforcement. Copyright law makes it easy to protect tightly defined things that have an obvious value. You can copyright a document – for example, a script if it is actually a proper film or play script with dialogue etc.

You can copyright the lyrics to a song, or a musical score (sheet music). You can copyright a film, or a recording of music, a painting, a photograph etc.

If they have value and you are deprived of the value that you have created, or suffer damages because the thing you have copyrighted is used in a way that you haven’t agreed to, then you can get damages. You can demand a price upfront.

Copyright is unequivocally a good thing because it creates an incentive structure that rewards people for producing these things and it protects them from the theft of their otherwise intangible work.

Copyright doesn’t protect a concept though. If one were to pitch an idea to a broadcaster saying “let’s make a programme where celebrities dress up in clown outfits and learn to juggle ice cream cones”, under normal circumstances, the broadcaster could listen to the idea, say that they’ve rejected it, and then six months later they could make the programme.

The person who pitched the idea would struggle to get any protection from copyright law because ideas can’t be copyrighted. If it were a specification that went into a lot of detail, it’s possible that there would be a case….. but generally, ideas are hard to protect – as the standard advice goes, “you can’t copyright an idea.”

Bectu’s Script Registration Scheme offers a partial solution to this.

Broadcasters are aware that people don’t actually pitch good ideas to them because of this fear and they want to offer some reassurance and protection so that people with good ideas will bring them forward in the first place.

So, with Bectu’s help (and at our instigation) an organisation for the Association for the Protection of Copyright (APC) was formed back in 2009.

This is a code of practice [pdf] that broadcasters sign up to that says that – if someone registers an idea with the scheme, and then they pitch it to a broadcaster who apparently rejects it but actually uses it, then the author of the pitch can escalate a complaint to higher levels at the broadcaster in question and be represented in any claim.

There are no real legal teeth to the scheme but it forces broadcasters to be reasonable, or take the risk that they will be clearly shown to have not behaved reasonably (which could even do more damage to their reputation than an out-of-court copyright settlement would).

Properly, we should probably call it a concept registration scheme – the ‘script’ may be somewhat misleading.

The APC was established by major broadcasters (BBC, ITV, C4, S4C Channel 5, and Sky) along with Pact. Those organisations and their members are bound to apply the agreement when asked to. No one else is though! If a script is sent to a production company outside of the scheme, there is no obvious direct protection offered by it.

The MU, NUJ, Society of Authors, Writers Guild, WFTV and Directors UK are also co-signatories to it, but they have done so from the author’s side (though I suspect it’s a double-edged sword for Directors UK).

The APA Code of Practice was published back in 2009 and a few interested parties are due to publish an updated version shortly.

What happens when you send a script to the Bectu Script Registration Scheme?

This is a service that we offer Bectu members. They can register a script with the union.

Members send in a script and a completed Bectu form that they have obtained from the union (or two forms if there is a co-author). One of the authors must be a Bectu member. The ‘co-author’ doesn’t.

The Bectu member fills out Form A, and the co-author (where there is one) fills out Form B. Bectu logs the script on the union’s internal record-keeping system. We record the date received, name, the type of script, the name, address, name, and address of co-author, and in doing this, we generate a mailmerged letter which is sent out as a covering letter to the member registering the ‘script’.

The application is given a registration number. The union doesn’t retain the actual script – we return it to the applicant in a sealed envelope that says (words to the effect of) “don’t open this envelope unless you are in front of a judge or a solicitor”. That’s essentially how it works. We make a copy of the form(s) and send the copy(s) back to the member (and co-authors where appropriate).

We keep the original form(s) and a copy of the covering letter that we’ve sent to the member for our own records, all subject to Bectu’s Privacy Policy rules.

And that’s it. Not water-tight protection by any means but an improvement upon a situation where there is no better legal redress.

Note: this article is correct at the time of writing (1st February 2022). Changes may happen to this scheme, so please check before acting on anything in this article.


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