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  1. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Warning From a Best-Selling Author

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by word whisperer, Jan 12, 2013.

    Back in 2008, I discovered another writer had gotten hold of one of my manuscripts. She used the heck out of it, got published, and became rich and famous as a result. (I'll give you a hint. I write young adult novels, but this series isn't about wizards.)

    In the year 2000, I submitted my manuscript to a well-known publisher in hopes of getting it published. They sent back a rejection letter. Then in 2008, my niece handed me a young adult novel she had just finished, saying it was really good. While I was reading, similarities to my own story kept popping out at me. By the time I finished the book, I was convinced this writer had gotten hold of my manuscript.

    Half a dozen attorneys agree with me.

    Unfortunately, they wouldn't take my case on a contingency basis since we'd be going up against such big names in the publishing industry. Now all I can do is get my story out so other writers don't have to suffer the pain and anger I have. You need to be extremely careful with your creations. Otherwise, you might find your book on the best-sellers list ... with another writer's name on the cover!
     
  2. cicerotamar
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    cicerotamar Member

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    Word Whisperer - if your book was actually stolen. As in, the thief took your pages, your actual words, and published them under her own name, and you could prove that (something that would be very easy to prove), a lawyer would take you on. But if your idea was stolen, then you have no grounds for complaint. Ideas are not copyrightable. Ideas are not original. It has all been done, sir. I promise you that. You are allowed to write a book about sparkling vampires, you know. Stephanie Meyer doesn't own that idea. You can write about fallen angels, and magic carpets, and genie lamps, and child wizards at a wizard academy. None of those things are off limits. They've all been done thousands and thousands of times. But pilfering actual pages, paragraphs, pages, chapters that YOU actually wrote, that is illegal, easily proven, and you should fight.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but I have to wonder. Is it really the fame of this other writer, or did you simply not have the saved notes, drafts, and manuscripts (not to mention rejection letters) to support your case?

    There are lawyers who would leap at a chance to take down a big name, if you have a case.

    Also, similarity of story line does not equal plagiarism. No two writers will treat the same collection of events (story line) the same way.

    Story ideas are not protected under copyright law. Besides, they are virtually useless, because it is how that idea is realized into a finished story that truly matters.

    By all means, exercise reasonable caution. Research agents and publishers before submitting to them, although theft of a manuscript is among the least of your risks. And definitely, keep your notes, drafts, and research used to develop your manuscript. But don't let it cross the line into paranoia.

    I apologize if you feel I'm not respecting your word. But there are two sides to such disputes, and I have to lean toward what is most probable based on what I have seen.
     
  4. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Thanks for replying to my post, cicerotamar.
    I have the dated letters on the publisher's letterhead as proof that my manuscript was submitted years before this other writer published her first book. There are over a thousand similarities between my story and her series. She copied whole phrases word for word. There are similar events. Characters who look similiar also play similar roles. The copyright infringement lawyers I saw were convinced I had a very strong case. They didn't take my case because it would have been very expensive. (I thought they were crazy to pass it up, but it wasn't my money.) I was told I only have four years to sue this writer, so my time is up. Now all I can do is warn you guys to be careful.
     
  5. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Cogito, I have the dated letters on the publisher's letterhead as proof that I submitted my manuscript years before this other writer published her first book. My list of over one thousand similarities was also very convincing. The copyright infringement lawyers all believed I have a very strong case. But they wouldn't take it on a contingency basis. It would be very expensive. (I thought they were crazy, but it wasn't my money.) I have saved everything: notes, the original hand-written manuscript, and the publisher's letters. If you know of a lawyer who would be interested in my case, let me know! But I think it's too late to sue. I was told I only have four years. This started in 2008.
    The writer used whole phrases word-for word. There are similiar events. Characters who look similiar also play similiar roles. It wasn't just my main idea (although it isn't common like a murder in New York). One editor said my novel was one of the most original he had ever seen.
    I'm not paranoid. I'm justly angry. This writer stole one of my best stories. Fortunately, I have a few more. I won't give up on my dream of becoming a published author.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I don't think I understand. Why do you think it's too late to sue?
     
  7. cicerotamar
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    cicerotamar Member

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    Then why didn't they make an offer on it?

    Phrases are not convincing. Nor are similar events.

    WordWhisperer, I feel compelled to remind you that a lawyer (nay, anyone offering a paid service) will tell you what you want to hear if it means they're going to make some cash. You can sue anyone for anything, it doesn't mean you will win.

    For example, if I read Harry potter and liked it, but thought I could do a much better job of it, I might try to write it. It would be simmilar. I'd put a trio of kids in a wizard school, I'd make one not know he was a wizard, and I'd make him grow up in really crappy situation. I'd even put a bad wizard that wants to kill the main character. I could do all those things and I wouldn't be violating copyright. How do I know that? Because off the top of my head I can name another very successful wizard boy series that has those precise elements. I can't call the character Harry Potter, nor can I name the villain Voldermort. The words would have to be mine.

    There is a really famous example of a writer copying sections of famous books and using them in their books. . . I can't remember his name, but it was big news last year. That writer's career is ruined forever. I mention that because serious writers don't steal. The risk is just too great. It's so easy to prove, and it would be a career destroyer.

    I say all that because you should just keep sending out your work. I don't know why you seem to have trunked that novel. Try to get it published. If it's as good as someone's who is a bestseller, you will find a publisher for it. If it's your words, don't worry about how similar it is. That's not your problem. If they try to slap you with copyright violations, deal with it. Your publisher will have lawyers ready for that fight. As long as you're talking about a reputable publisher.
     
  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not entirely sure what is it you are warning us about? Sending manuscripts to publishers, for the fear they'll somehow facilitate other writers to copy our stories and then publish them? I just can't get my head around that.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Do you have any idea how the author could have gotten a hold of your manuscript? Is the publisher you submitted to still in business? Are there any complaints against them?

    Maybe the lawyers didn't see a strong enough case here, despite telling you otherwise. As others have mentioned, ideas can't be copied, so unless you find passages (and not just phrases) that are similar to yours, you don't really have a strong case (there are so many common phrases out there that proving the author copied a bunch of phrases can be hard to prove).

    On a related note, I believe the statute of limitations on a plagiarism claim is three years, which is stupid if you ask me.
     
  10. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi WW,

    Read between the lines. If half a dozen lawyers wouldn't take your case it has nothing to do with the names they'd be going up against. It's because they don't think the case is strong enough.

    I'm not saying this thing didn't happen - I have no idea. But it is perfectly feasible for different books by different authors to be similar in many respects, plot and even phrases.

    Also if it wasn't published somewhere you have to provide some sort of explanation for how your manuscript went from the publisher to the writer. Do they share the same publisher? Most reputable publishers either return or shred manuscripts as I understand it, and I can't imagine that they would keep one around on their shelves for years just to give it to someone else.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Cicerotamar - get yours published. Similar phrases and similar ideas are unfortunately not enough for a case. People even come up with the same made-up names sometimes, heck - I found someone else on this forum whose fantasy monster was called Ezreth, and ezreth happens to be a super power in my fantasy novel. We didn't "copy" each other - it was pure coincidence. My villain's name is Shadow Walker - you'll notice there's a user called shadowalker around this forum. What I mean is, similar ideas do happen.

    And THAT means, your manuscript is not wasted - if similar ideas are not copyrightable, then it means yours can still get published. And if one similar novel is a bestseller, yours can certainly do the same. If that writer comes back to you with copyright violations, you'll have all the proof in your favour and your own publishing house will back you with their own lawyers, as long as you go with a big house, and you'll win the fight because you have all the hand-written notes and the dated rejection letters.
     
  12. Sam M
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    Sam M Member

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    Also, if it was as successful as you are putting it, it would almost surely be put into a series of some sort. I think it would be hard to do anything legally with a story that has been extended. For example, I could use the first Hunger Games book as a base, then take the series in a completely new direction. My third book would be vastly different from Collins, but I could, theoretically, prove that it was coincidence that the first books were the same, by using the overall story as evidence.
    But I have no experience in legalities, so I could be wrong.
     
  13. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    This might be a little off track for this thread, but I've sometimes used Google on the various names and phrases in my story to see what turns up. It seems like pretty much any name ever created is already is use by someone somewhere. It turns out there is a village in Nigeria with the same name as one of my characters! Mostly the uses I find are so unrelated that I don't worry about anyone getting upset but there have been a few cases when I changed a name or adjusted a phrase to avoid a near collision with some existing usage.
     
  14. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    If your story hasn't been published; then how do you think this other author managed to get hold of your manuscript to copy sections from it?

    Are you saying we should be careful as to whom we submit to?
     
  15. Drusy
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    Drusy Senior Member

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    I'm not saying, one way or the other, whether this was plausible ... But I do remember when I was in grade school ... Another kid and I got pulled into the principals office because we had essays that sounded suspiciously familiar... Some sentences were exact. We sat across the room from one another while we wrote and I can honestly say I've never cheated... But they thought we did. Sometimes this happens.
     
  16. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    I had the same thing happen to me. I found that the name of my second novel was exactly the same (in English spelling) as a town in Norway!
     
  17. Just
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    Just New Member

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    "Young Adult Novels" come in about 8 different flavors. Two ideas of the same flavor are usually identical (give or take peculiars).
    That's all I'm going to say on the matter.
     
  18. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Lemex, I was told I only had four years. The minute I stepped into the first lawyer's office, the time started ticking. That was back in 2008. Thanks for the question, and good luck with your writing!
     
  19. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    jazzabel, I just wanted to warn my fellow writers that these things happen. I think of us all as brothers and sisters since we're all going through the same things. I want to help and give support to whomever needs it. I hear about some writers who give their stories to just about anyone to read. This is a bad idea. I used to be very trustworthy, but now I'm not. Just be careful about who you let read your stories.
     
  20. swhibs123
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    swhibs123 Active Member

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    GHA! Thanks for the warning! LOL - just kidding, I know you meant "Trusting."

    I hope things work out for you and that you don't give up.
     
  21. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Hello, thirdwind. The first lawyer I saw set me up with a private investigator. He discovered an employee at the publishing company had given a copy of my manuscript to this writer. She even thanks him at the end of one of her books! Yes, the publisher is still in business (scary, huh?) They are very well-known. I don't know of any complaints (except mine!). I never checked the Better Business Bureau or Preditors and Editors. That's a great idea, though. Thanks.

    The sheer volume of the similarities and what the list includes is very convincing. Every time I called a lawyer, I told him about my case. The first thing he asked for was my list of similarities. It was only after he read them that he agreed to meet with me. If the list wasn't convincing, I doubt any lawyer would have wasted his time seeing me. And at every meeting, every lawyer I saw made a copy of my manuscript so he could compare it to the other writer's first novel. Why put in all this work if they didn't believe I had a strong case?

    I agree with you about the statute of limitations. It's maddening! Why does it matter how long it takes to secure a lawyer and take your case to court??

    Thanks for replying. You had some good questions.

    jadejohnson
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    why are you not answering the questions about how this other author was able to get your ms?

    how did she?
     
  23. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    See the post above yours, it seems a publisher gave a copy to her, or an employee there anyway :confused:
     
  24. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Hello, mammamaia. The private investigator the first lawyer put on my case was able to track down the culprit. Although he was an employee at the publishing company, we don't believe the company had any knowledge of his activities. This was never determined. The writer even thanks this person at the end of one of the books in the series!

    Have fun writing today!

    jadejohnson
     
  25. word whisperer
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    word whisperer Senior Member

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    Thanks for pointing that out, prettyprettyprettygood!

    jadejohnson
     
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