1. Jason Haffler
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    Jason Haffler New Member

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    question on ethics and intellectual property in fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jason Haffler, Nov 30, 2010.

    I am an unpublished fiction writer and often base stories that I write off of personal experiences or experiences of people close to me. I have one particular friend who has told me a lot of incredible anecdotes over the years. These anecdotes tend to revolve around a core group of people who he knows but I have never had the pleasure of meeting. My friend has aspirations to write but has never actually written a word of fiction and probably never will. I would hate for his stories to go to waste and would love to incorporate them into my own work, yet I have a feeling of trepidation about beginning this process. I fear that there is maybe something unethical using another person's anecdotes.

    Have any of you ever heard a great anecdote from a fellow writer that you wanted to use in your own work? Can a story someone tells you be their intellectual property if it is from their actual experience and not their imagination ? Has a published author ever been accused of plagiarism for doing something similar to what I am describing?

    Thank you very much for reading my post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.

    Jason
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know you could always just ask him whether or not you can use his stories.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Seconded. As long as you're not ripping off something copyrighted, you're good.
     
  4. Jason Haffler
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    Jason Haffler New Member

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    Thanks a lot for the feedback. I actually have asked the guy for permission to use his stories in the past and he claimed to be completely fine with it. I just worry that maybe he really is bothered by the idea but was being polite. I suppose if that's the case, it's not really my problem. I was also curious, in a really general sense, where other writers feel the line between plagiarism and using a good story you've been told is. Is there a distinction between an actual event and a "made up" creative idea when someone tells you a story? Does anyone have ownership of a story that really happened if they haven't written it down yet? Maybe it is often simply a matter of asking the storyteller for permission.

    Thanks again for your replies.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oral permission is as good as the paper it isn't written on.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!

    you should be asking a literary attorney about this...
     
  7. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    You're worried about co-opting your friend's stories, but let me offer up another possibility:

    You write out one of his stories, show it to him, and he says "Whoa - that's cool! No frickin' way. Like OMG - you've totally GOT to publish this."

    Why not write something out then show him. That seems to me the polite (and fun) thing to do.

    As to IP of the story, the friend does not own the idea or the event - seems to my untrained eyes that it's more a matter of politeness.

    There is one legal issue you may want to be mindful of, and of which I have even less knowledge. Namely, the privacy of those involved. If you're revealing normally private information that's easily identified to a person, they may have some legal ability to cry foul.

    -Frank
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    It's not considered less creative to base fiction off of real stuff. I have a lot of characters that are inspired by friends, people at work, people I don't like etc.
     
  9. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not to mention those uncreative people who write historical fiction ;)

    Don't worry about using someone else's stories - even if your friend's stories are great, it still takes a skilled writer to make it read well on paper, and the credit for that will be yours.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    True, but if it gets legal what evidence has the friend that he told the stories? Anyway, as Baigent & Leigh discovered, ideas and historical facts are not protected by copyright. The biggest risk here seems to be the possibility of souring the relationship, and talking about it with the friend and getting verbal permission seems to be the best approach here.
     
  11. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    But your friend didn't make up or invent these. An event simply happened. He told you about it and you thought it would be good for a story and told him as much. He said he was ok with it. Sounds fine to me.
     
  12. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I doubt this would really result in something hazardous supposing you get it published some day. First of all, they are not copyrighted. Second of all, you're writing about a true event. People, musicians mostly, do this ALL the time. They can write about something they read in the newspaper, though, it is music, so they usually make so it so that people have to read between the lines to understand exactly what they mean.... Do you plan on literally writing each and every little fact from the anecdote?
     
  13. Jason Haffler
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    Jason Haffler New Member

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    I don't plan on literally copying any anecdotes. I'm just considering altering some to fit a novel idea that I have. I really appreciate everyone's comments. I don't really know why I've been feeling so guilty using some of these stories but I tend to agree with the comments that this is more of an issue of politeness than anything legal. I feel at peace with the idea that as long as I'm upfront about what I'm doing and the other person gives permission, there is nothing sinister about writing a few silly stories. Thanks again.
     

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