1. mVd
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    mVd Member

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    Protecting your work

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by mVd, Sep 12, 2014.

    Hello,

    I have a question regarding on how to protect your work from people who could steal your work and claim it their own.

    I have read that my work is copyrighted from the minute i write it, however i am interested what should i do if someone else claims it. Say for example i do not want to manually write my drafts on paper and only use programs like Microsoft Word for writing a book, how can i prove that what i wrote is mine?

    Thank you.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Keep all drafts. The drafts don't necessarily have to be written on paper; something written in Word is fine as well. This provides a paper trail and shows that you're the one who actually worked on the stolen work.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not sure how one would access this on a PC, but I'm sure there's a way. On a Mac an MS Word file has a created on date that is separate from dates of modification. You would have that as well.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 3.21.20 PM.png
     
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  4. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Your computer will keep an electronic record of when each file/folder/document was started and the time taken on working on that document so lets say you started something on 5/5/14 and someone else eventually nicked it and published as their own on 6/7/16, you would be able to prove that you wrote the original.
     
  5. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    On word, on the doc, before you open it, right click the file name and choose "properties"
     
  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Great minds, @Wreybies !
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    On a Mac, the instructions are identical, but it's "get info" instead of "properties". ;)
     
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  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Rather consult a literary lawyer, if you're genuinely concerned. Yes, electronic copies leave a paper trail etc - but as with anything with computers, these things are easily manipulated. You don't know if said electronic paper trail would really be admissible in court. Go see a lawyer and ask. Don't rely on the word of this forum, most of us are not legal experts.
     
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  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You can use drafts, notes, etc. in court. In a lot of cases, it's actually not even worth taking someone to court. Damn lawyers charge too much.
     
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  10. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    You could also burn a copy to CD (or print a copy out) package it up and post it to yourself by SPECIAL DELIVERY, or any kind of delivery that means you have to sign for it when it's delivered. When you get it delivered, do not open it, just put it in a safe place ready for if the need arises for you to prove in court that you produced the work on a certain date. (postmarks and postdates, plus the post offices paper trail showing who signed for it and when it was signed for, cannot be manipulated quite as easily).

    Or, if you want to be on the uber-safe side, consult a lawyer as @Mckk suggested.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I never verified this, so I could be wrong, but the above "special delivery" method is void - or at least that's what I've read from various members on this forum. It's not admissible in court I heard.

    Again, this is why you must consult a lawyer.

    If there's one thing that might be reliable, that would be to actually purchase the official copyright. Now that would surely be admissible in court!
     
  12. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I designed a bed set (when I made matching quilt cover/pillowcase sets) and when I looked up copyrighting on a copyrighting site, it said I could do it this way so long as I also wrote on the designs, my name, the date and "copyright" right the C in the circle.
     
  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I think the major difference is if you want to copyright or patent something. You can copyright anything so long as you have irrefutable proof that YOU came up with the idea BEFORE the other person. Obviously, when you are talking about physical inventions, then you pay to register it with the patents office.
     
  14. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a perfect and caveman-simple way to do this. You can prove, digitally, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were the first person to write something, and you can do this without revealing your work to the world prematurely. It avoids all the problems @Mckk correctly points out regarding methods like referring to a file's date of creation or mailing a CD to yourself.

    Use a hash. Think of a hash as a machine. You put any piece of text, called the cleartext, into it. The machine spits out a different piece of text called the digest.

    The important property of the hash is that it can use the cleartext to figure out the digest, but it cannot use the digest to figure out the cleartext.

    So this is what you do:

    Write something like this:

    "<Your full name> wrote: <synopsis of your idea>"

    That is the cleartext. Keep an exact copy of it in a safe place, preferably in the cloud. Google Drive and Dropbox are good places to keep it.

    Hash it. Post the digest in several public places on the web that show when it was posted. Put it in a public pastebin. Publicly blog it. Put it in a public Facebook note. etc.

    When you want to prove to someone that you were the first to come up with the idea, show them the cleartext. Tell them to hash it and then to Google the digest. They will see the digest in the search results and they will see when you posted it. This proves you wrote the cleartext some time before you posted the digest.

    As of 2014, the hash I recommend is SHA-256. Use this tool to convert a cleartext into a digest.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
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  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Digital methods aren't without their problems. If the thief really wanted to, he could steal your work and then write "drafts" of the work using pen and paper. There would be no way to date this accurately (that I know of). Thus, it would become a case of he said, she said.

    Probably the best way to protect your work is to not post it online. And if someone takes the time to hack into your computer or physically come to your house and steal your work, you should be flattered more than anything. :p In all seriousness, works are rarely stolen, so no one should get paranoid about it.
     
  16. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The digital method I described is without problems.
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Like I said, if the thief writes everything by hand, there's no good way to know which person wrote the draft first.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless the theft is based on an obsessive grudge or some other motive unrelated to profit, it seems to me that the time and trouble that this would take would be much more than the theft is worth. If you have dozens or hundreds of drafts, changing day after day after day after day, is he really going to go to the trouble to duplicate that by hand?
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mailing a copy to yourself (usually called the "poor man's copyright") is useless in court. Since the US Postal Service does not require envelopes to be sealed, the other party could claim that a new ms was simply placed in an older envelope. Earlier dated drafts are helpful, but really, there's little chance that anyone's unpublished works would be plagiarized. Once published, registration of your work provides the best legal protections/remedies.
     
  20. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thief: "I wrote a book and published it in 2015. Here is proof."

    You: "In 2014, I wrote a synopsis of the idea Thief put in his book. Here is proof."

    Thief: "In 2013, I wrote a draft of the book. The draft includes the idea in question. Here is my handwritten copy. I cannot prove when I wrote it."

    See what happens? The earliest anyone can prove they wrote about the idea is 2014, and that person is you.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would agree that you can prove that you had access to the idea in 2014. However, that isn't absolute proof that the idea was yours, because there's no proof that someone didn't have the idea before. And I don't think that the court is required to go with the earliest absolute proof of anything, if that absolute proof isn't absolute proof of the primary question in the case.

    (I'm ignoring the fact that an idea isn't copyrightable, because I assume that your premise isn't that it is, but that the idea is evidence that the copyrightable material associated with the idea, the book, was also yours at the time that you essentially timestamped the idea.)
     
  22. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You're right, of course. I was just stating an extreme example to show that something like this could possibly happen. I doubt it ever does, though.

    If the thief registers his work with the copyright office and takes me to court, the burden is on me to show that I did indeed write the work first (assuming I haven't registered the work myself, which would make things a lot easier). It's automatically assumed that the person registering the copyright is the owner (though the act of registering isn't itself proof), so the burden shifts to the defendant. It's a complicated issue, and I don't know all of the details.
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak @thirdwind there are two separate issues: credit and copyright. I have been referring to credit because it is what @mVd's question is about and because I find it more important.

    Credit: the problem is that you have an idea and then someone else writes a book that includes the idea without crediting you for it, and when asked, the author says he came up with the idea on his own. You want people to know you came up with it. You are trying to persuade the people, not the court. The solution is to show people something you wrote and to prove you wrote it before the other author can prove he wrote about the same idea. Personally, that would convince me that you are right.

    Copyright: the problem is that you have an idea and then someone else writes a book that includes the idea and profits from it without giving you a cut. You want some of that money. You are trying to persuade the court, not the people. The solution is to show the court something that you wrote that gives you the copyright of the idea* in question and to prove you wrote it before the other author wrote his book. I do not know if the method I described gives you copyright. That is not its intent.

    * Yes, ideas are copyrightable. (Which is a stupid law that defeats its own purpose.) It depends on how specific the idea is. Disney cannot sue someone for profiting from a cartoon about a talking mouse but they can sue someone for profiting from a cartoon about Mickey Mouse**. That is why copyright lasts so long. Disney keeps lobbying for extensions to the copyright term so their copyright for the first Mickey Mouse cartoon never expires.

    ** EDIT: Mickey Mouse is an idea. An illustration of Mickey Mouse is an expression of that idea. That is my definition. By a different definition, ideas may or may not be copyrightable.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Ideas are not copyrightable. Here's what Section 102 of the Copyright Act states:
    What copyright protects is the expression of an idea, which is why it extends to Mickey Mouse but not to the idea of a talking mouse.
     
  25. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I argue Mickey Mouse is an idea and an illustration of Mickey Mouse is an expression. I do believe either the Copyright Act is poorly articulated or the courts are misinterpreting the fuck out of it these days. In either case, I believe US copyright law should be reformed or straight-up repealed.

    That is a separate discussion that interests me. But the reason I brought it up was to clarify what I assumed was the intent in proving someone deserves credit for work that someone else claims credit for. Regardless of what the law is, I do believe if person A comes up with an idea and person B expresses that idea (which person B should feel free to do), then it is best if person A receives credit for the idea and person B receives credit for the expression. Which is why I am interested in helping people document their work.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014

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