1. Mustang
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    Mustang New Member

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    Stealing ideas...

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Mustang, Oct 16, 2012.

    Does anyone worry about having their book idea(s) "stolen" during the querying process?

    In other words, isn't it within the realm of possibility that an agent/publisher we query could turn us down on our proposal, but turn around and share our idea with someone in their life -- or in the industry! -- for a variety of reasons (as a professional favor, as a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" scenario, for financial gain, etc.).

    Anyone here who thinks this a legitimate concern? Anyone who thinks it's not? All views will be interesting...
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Only a complete idiot of an agent would jeopardize his or her professional career by plagiarizing.

    That being said, ideas can't be stolen, because they are essentially worthless.

    Ideas are not copyrightable. But no two writers will render the same idea the same way, and the only value to an idea is how it is rendered.

    I am excluding patentable ideas from this, of course. Fiction ideas will not, as a rule, fall into this category, but if they do, patenting is a completely separate process. An example of a patentable idea from fiction is Arthur C Clarke's idea of using man-made satellites in geosynchronous orbit for global communications.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most writers have enough ideas of their own without "stealing" someone else's. And, as Cogito says, ideas are a dime a dozen - it's what you do with them that counts.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of the above...

    RELAX!... and go ahead and query... your work will go nowhere if you don't...
     
  5. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Adding to the question in a way....do any writers have a fail safe to stop this, without copy-writing, i heard that one writer would mail a copy of the manuscript and keep it with the post mark unopened, and another that would get a solicitor to sign the envelope.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    There only exist a limited number of story ideas and every story is a variation of one of them. Even if you posted your story idea here or on any other website as a premise/prompt for a story contest, you'd get as many different stories as there were entrants.
     
  7. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    If ideas could literally be stolen...
    That could actually be an interesting story to read about.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In the eyes of the law, this is invalid - it's really just a myth I think. And also, ideas cannot be copyrighted.

    As to the OP - I wondered the same thing actually 'cause I sent the first 3 chapters to a small publisher that I found online. But in the end, I'm thinking this:

    - Firstly, having the MS in your hands doesn't mean it gets published, you still need queries and synopsis, both of which are damn hard to write and probably too much work for someone looking for easy cash.
    - Secondly, ok so say they steal it, they publish it, but first books almost never make enough money. Like, my point is, stealing your book and then publishing it under their own name won't be getting them any easy cash either. So why would they bother?
    - Thirdly, even agents need to approach several publishers, which means - lots of work to sell an MS, even if the agent was gonna take the credit himself as the creator. My point is, again, no hope of any easy cash.
    - Fourthly - the idea of an actual PUBLISHER doing this is even more absurd. The contracts are so much in their favour that there just wouldn't be any point whatsoever. They take 80-90% of the profits I believe. IMO that's robbing the authors blind as it is, and we even let them do it to us willingly :D But either way, it shows there's basically zero chance of them "stealing" anything.
    - Fifthly - to be honest, I think us writers are just kidding ourselves. We'd be lucky if someone wants to publish it - and there we think someone might think it SO great they're gonna steal it and make millions out of it? Heh, I think that's just a very improbable dream. The likelihood is that we'd beg someone to publish our work rather than getting them stolen. It's the agents and publishers who are suspicious of us, if we'd actually sell. Dream on that they'd not only wanna buy but go as far as steal!

    The only thing you should be worried about is the sharks that ask for money up-front - now THAT I'd steer well clear of.
     
  9. Kinch
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    Kinch Member

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    Yeah, I'm worried about the chance of that. One thing that bothers me is that if somebody stole my idea, I can guarantee they would get something wrong, which I wouldn't at that point be able to set straight.

    Mckk has a valid point...no, make that seven or eight up there ^.
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think this idea / worry probably stems more from the entertainment industry - I definitely think script ideas should be guarded
    more carefully than mere book ideas. With all the rip offs in the movie and t.v. industry it's probably built up the writers
    paranoia that everyone is out to steal their stuff. But a script is one thing - a book is definitely another. While a book
    without a known writer looks like a small fish in a big sea - A script can be backed and pushed along by stars and become
    an instant hit. That being said - the odds are astronimical that yours will be stolen.
     
  11. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Mediocre writers borrow; Great writers steal' T.S. Eliot.


    Edit - That being said, stop worrying, no-one can steal your work word for word 'they're are copyright laws'. They may take your idea and use it, but give the same idea to a number of writer and they will each come up with a completely different story.
     
  12. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    In Hollywood, $5 and a great idea with no script will buy you a cup of coffee.

    While there are a few proven cases of movies using story concepts from TV or comics without permission (Terminator and Hardware, for example), I'm not aware of a single case in the last few decades of a TV or Hollywood movie script being stolen and produced under a different writer's name. If you're spending millions of dollars making a movie or TV show, paying $10-100,000 for a script is vastly cheaper than a lawsuit for stealing it.

    If you're sending it out to unknown low-budget producers, yeah, maybe you should be a bit more careful. But you probably shouldn't be doing that anyway.
     
  13. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Any one ever heard of total MS being stolen? ie. Given to a shark of an agent for example and taken almost word for word. Not trying to cause hysteria lol but just interested.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    No. By law (and I'm sure maia will correct me if I am wrong), your MS is copyrighted as soon as it's written. Registration of a copyright is done for ease of enforcement. But even without registration, there are some basic steps you can take to prove authorship. Any agent who tried to do as you suggest would be out of business before he could learn to spell "plagiarism."
     
  15. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the answer, it's just (especially in a computer driven world) easy to let paranoia get the better of you, since nearly everything can have a scam attached to it, emails, car sales etc. and I was wondering how a writer would ever be able to prove its their work. LOL don't worry I'm not even close to thinking about that yet but unfortunately it is the world we live in. Im guessing copyright enforcement would be a gamble in itself, as it must be a cost and only works if you get published. Out of interest does any body know the basic steps, because talk about a minefield lol.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, ed... that's correct...

    everyone who wants to be a writer should learn the basics of copyright law... you'll find it all here:

    www.copyright.gov

    first of all, nothing in life is 'fail-safe'!

    secondly, it's 'copyrighting'... 'copy-writing' is the writing of copy, as in copy for websites, brochures, advertising, etc.

    mailing to yourself is not recognized or admitted as evidence of ownership in US courts... but does have some standing in the UK, or so i've heard...

    dated computer files are useless, because they're too easily faked... same goes for emailing...

    the only way to really prove you wrote something is to save every one of your first idea jottings, the first draft and a couple of subsequent hand-edited printed-out drafts... that will prove the development of your work from idea to polished ms... no one trying to fob it off as their own will have that paper trail, or the will and smarts to fake a believeable one...
     
  17. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I heard--and tell me if I'm wrong but I hope I'm right--if you get betareaders, you can get them to sign an affidavit swearing they read your work on such-and-such a date. This isn't foolproof, but it's a piece of evidence. (tell me I'm right tell me I'm right tell me I'm right)
     
  18. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    And now you'll get fifty writers stealing it and using it in fifty different ways. :p
     
  19. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    As for computer files, there's something called a "time stamp", it's a bit like a digital signature but it proves when the file was signed. I guess that should work, but it's a rather new technology and I've never heard of anyone using it in a copyright case.

    And you'd put them all in an anthology. And then someone would come up and steal the book. And then…
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've started doing this with my current project, which also involves quite a bit of research. Not every tidbit of research I've done is in my notebooks, but enough of it - including sources - so that it would be indisputably mine. I actually didn't do it specifically to guard against theft, but one of your prior postings of this suggestion got me to thinking that having a handwritten notebook would be a great way to stay organized. And it is. It will also be interesting, when I'm done, to see what brilliant ideas and wonderful characters got deep-sixed along the way.
     
  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And what if you did all your planning and editing and writing on a computer? I do have some hand-written notes but the story's changed so much that no one would recognise it's the same story! I would've thought simply showing the number of drafts I have on my computer should suffice as prove, even though it's all digital and I guess, without a date or one that would be of value - just because there're so many little changes in every draft that it surely proves I'm the one who's been working on this story. No one else could have all these drafts, even if they're all digital. (unless someone wanted to go into all the time of typing up 70k over and over and add tiny changes to each.....)
     
  22. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The copyright and evidence discussion is all theoretical. There is no hard and fast rule in either the Federal or most state Rules of Evidence that would specifically exclude the admission of a mailed or electronic copy of a manuscript. The whole issue would be sufficiency of the evidence, and taken in conjunction with other elements of the case, it may or may not be admitted. The whole issue is that you need to prove you are the owner of the copyright -- that you typed the words. And that someone else took them from you. If you are establishing a timeline, a mailed copy might help prove that. An email would, as well, particularly because it wouldn't be just your own computer that had the email, but also the email provider's server, the recipient's email provider's server, the recipient's own computer, and any possible number of other computers that might be involved. Little pieces of evidence can add up, so it's not that they're entirely worthless, it's just that they're not the panacea you're hoping for.

    The odds of getting an agent and editor, selling the book to a publisher, getting it published, and having the book achieve blockbuster financial success are low enough. I wouldn't worry too much about the possibility of someone else claiming the right to your work on top of all that. Look at all the books on the remainder shelves. You're better off expending the energy on making your story great.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    re the mailing to yourself issue, don't just take my word on it, check it out at the source!

    on the gov't copyright site www.copyright.gov you'll find in the faq or basics section the official word on what is known as 'the poor man's copyright'...

    and if you want to find out how much weight electronic files might have in court [if any], consult a literary attorney...

    if you want to rest easy knowing you've protected your work the best way possible, then follow my advice, which is what most writing pros and attorneys would tell you, imo...
     
  24. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    It costs $35 to register your work via the Internet.

    I'm not sure why people feel the need to cheap out when it comes to copyright registration. Doing it right takes much less time and effort than standing in front of a judge trying to assure him/her that the Manila envelope in your possession proves your case.

    Just register the work.
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    other than for film/tv scripts and possibly songwriting, there's no good reason to spend that money before you have a publisher for the work... think about how many pieces of work you may turn out in a year's time, multiply that number by $35 and you'll see why it makes no sense...

    your work is protected by copyright without that copyright being registered, so why go to that bother and expense, when all it does is cover some issues and benefits that only take effect if your work is actually stolen or plagiarized and you sue the perp...

    read up on exactly what registering does and does not do at the source: www.copyright.gov

    the most major down side of registering something before it's published is that dates it, so if it you're still submitting it more than a year later, those you submit to will know you were unable to get a publisher interested in it... which would definitely be counterproductive...
     

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