Writers Ask – Can They Steal My Idea?

Tuesday, December 11th 2018. | Proposal

Your publication is equally interesting And first. Unfortunately, the part that is original isn’t interesting and the part that’s interesting is not original. -Samuel Johnson

I GIVE a Good Deal of seminars on freelance writing. When I get to he part of where I describe how to write a question or book suggestion I understand that someone in the room will raise a hand to ask this heartfelt query:”How do I know that they won’t steal my idea?”

And why not ask it? After all, the Writer asking the question had the idea in the first place, polished it up and refined it, and is now ready to try and get it published. The last thing she wants is a rejection slip, followed with a similar post over somebody else’s byline a few months later.

The short answer is no, It’s not Likely that they will.

Some of these questioners seem Almost paralyzed be the fear of dropping the products of their minds and hearts to unscrupulous people who might, in some way, access them at any stage during the publication process, mainly while they’re shopping an idea around.

Such writers find themselves in a Kind of Catch-22: they can not get printed without sending out their ideas for consideration; but if they ship them out they think that they may risk losing them. So what’s the dope? Do ideas get stolen from the writing transaction? Seldom? Often?

I have been a magazine editor and
Freelance writer for over 35 years. During that time, I’ve had no personal experience with purloined ideas, none of my friends in the business has ever complained to me of purloined thoughts, and no writer submitting queries to my publications has ever complained that her or his thought has been stolen.

You Can’t Avoid It

Moreover, what option do you have? If you’re a farmer, you’ve got to sow your seed, though the birds may peck up one or even two of these here or there.

If You Would like to be a writer, you’ve Got to send your thoughts out, or they just rot in your mind like the fearful gardener’s unsown seed rot in the barn. Still, I imagine the writing trade has as many dishonest persons per capita as exist at almost any other profession, so maybe I was just blessed. At any rate, my assertion that I experienced this type of editorial malfeasance is no guarantee it is not going on.

Writers enjoy more security From present-day copyright legislation than they ever enjoyed earlier. Unauthorized editions of popular works could be and were published around the Earth, with no advantages at all going to the author. As long as the writing firm consisted entirely of print publications, the issue was pretty much solved. But now with the vast, still untamed, lands of digital publishing before us it is a very unwise writer who does not understand what the real dangers are and how to safeguard himself

So let us map out the territory and see where we stand.

Ideas and Words

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t really matter if someone steals your idea. They still can’t steal your style. Ideas aren’t all that significant in themselves. It is exactly what your particular and personal ability as a writer brings to them that counts. And though an idea can be ripped off, its not so likely from the writing transaction. The excellent French poet Stephanie Malarkey was out walking one day with a younger author. “Where do you get your ideas for poems?”

With thoughts,” Malarkey replied. “You make them .”

It’s the rhythm, the pictures, the Sounds of these words – the way they appear on the page – which makes a poem. The idea is secondary, except that it needs to be one of interest to most readers. Here is an idea:”Don’t give all your worldly goods for your children. They may not like you as much as you enjoy them.” The idea is dull, flat. So go ahead and slip it and determine what you can do with it.

How many books have been predicated on This idea:”A young man and a woman fall in love but the normal course of their passion is blocked and tragedy ensues.” The idea is the same, but the novels could not be more different.

This is another thought, a very A individual commits an act of murder not for any logical motive but simply because it can be done. That’s a very clear and simple notion, but in the hands of distinct writers it finds quite different and complex expression: Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment,” Andre Gide in The Caves of the Vatican, and Truman Copote within his”non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood. It is hard to image three more different novels, but the exact same basic idea informs all of them.

Thoughts and Editors

In the publishing industry we see In reality, it may be maintained that there are a limited number of thoughts in the world in the most basic level: love, hate, greed, and ambition. Then there are the subcategories: pure love, sensual love, selfless love; hate of oneself, hatred of a single other; hatred of a race; greed for money, for land, for electricity; ambition to reach political power, worldly standing, epic prestige; sensual lust.

That is barely a dozen thoughts, and it Covers virtually everything in human experience. Editors watch them over and over again. No, thoughts are not tempting in their own. Most editors got where they are because their own heads are rather brimming over with ideas., and for many writers the problem is not a lack of ideas by the time to develop all of them.

What editors are Searching for are two Matters; a fresh slant on the same essential truths of human experience that have always fascinated subscribers; and a strong, original fashion capable of dressing out those thoughts in words that will give freshness and creativity for their saying. No one has time or need to steal ideas. Writers are what’s rare, and if you approach an editor with a new slant in a query letter that convinces him that you can write well enough to bring your idea to life, you couldn’t drive him off with a baseball bat. It is you, not your thought, which interests him, because you exhibit that rare combination of creativity and talent that he is looking for.

Simultaneous Invention

Simultaneous creation – wherein two Individuals, not in touch with one another give birth to the exact same idea or clusters of ideas – is not a new phenomenon. Sir Isaac Newton in England and Leibniz in Germany developed the infinitesimal calculus through the same years independent of one another. Writers do it all the time. An idea is only in the atmosphere, and many freelancers, independently of one another, jump on it and try to market it. It’s entirely possible that this is actually the origin of several”stolen idea” stories. An editor has many variations of the identical thing on his desk. He chooses one and rejects the other. Several months later the rejected writer sees a post on a theme very similar to that of his on piece in the magazine in question. He raises a hue and cry, asserting that his idea was stolen. But he’s incorrect and suffering from a bad case of simultaneous invention.

What about Copyright

The standard bar against the theft Of intellectual correctly is the international copyright convention, according to the vast majority of literate and literary countries worldwide join in recognizing the only right of authors (unless voluntarily signed to others by the author) to enjoy the possession and benefits of his or her literary works.

Copyright protection in the United States was dominated by the copyright act of 1909, which allowed protection to the writer for a span of 28 decades, renewable for another 28 years. In the event that the copyright Wasn’t renewed, all security expired, and the job in question passed into the domain

This law has been revised in 1978. Under The law, copyright protection is for its author’s lifetime, plus 50 decades. Bringing the United States into accordance with the copyright legislation of England and some other countries. Furthermore, copyright security is supposed to exist from the moment a job, in whole or in part, exists in real form: handwritten, typed, or output by a pc. Technically, copyright registration is not mandatory, but in the lack of a certification of copyright issued by the copyright division of the Library of Congress one’s rights under the law are much more challenging to maintain – possibly even impossible.

A certificate of copyright is easy to obtain. One has just to ship two copies of this literary solution, a copyright application, and a check for (as of this writing) $40 into the Office of Copyrights at the Library of Congress. It is possible to get details and download application forms online at the Library of Congress web site.

What Copyright Doesn’t Cover

Though a certification of copyright Is the most basic and effective security available for a literary work, it doesn’t cover some matters. It does not, for example, pay the title of your work, nor does it prevent persons from quoting a paragraph or two (the specific amount is ill-defined) under the”fair use” doctrine. Thus a college student preparing a term paper on Hamlet can, without fear of copyright violation, quotation a hundred or so words from a different critic’s analysis of that same play. Anyone who wishes to quote more broadly than that will have to write to the holder of the copyright to request permission to do so and pay whatever fee, if any, may be requested.

But if copyright law doesn’t Protect a name, there can be others who do this in certain, well-defined cases. These usually have to do with violations of laws governing fair trade practices. Another person may not legally appropriate your name (though you would need to go to court to stop it) if your title is a part and parcel of a larger marketing presence.

Such titles are said to be the Equal of brand names. A well-known example today is that the”Idiot’s Guide to…” that are observed in all the bookstores. “Cliff’s Notes…” is just another. The name of the series of reference guides for authors Small Blue Sourcebooks! For Writers and Self-Publishers(TM) is yet another.

A work whose copyright has expired Or that intentionally created without copyright protections (as are many government publications, booklets and pamphlets, for example ) are thought to be in the”public domain,” and could possibly be used by anyone at anytime without any consent or punishment.

If out-and-out idea theft is an Unlikely event in the publishing world, this doesn’t mean that thieves and evil-doers aren’t lurking there as everywhere. There are other types of literary skullduggery that are a lot more probable and that you be ready to guard yourself against. Expression of surprised innocence. They probably believe they are engaging in legitimate business practices, and, after all, there are a number of us who don’t believe that way. Or, should you decide it is in your best interests to work together, elect to do this of your own volition, not by default.

The Rights Pirates

Rights pirates, such as unscrupulous Politicians ambulance-chasing lawyers may dress well and appear to be part of the literary community. They earn their living not by stealing your idea but by poaching in your right to profit by that idea in its written form. This functions in various manners:

You’re paid for the first Book or”first serial rights” but get nothing from later uses of you perform when the American Association of Journalists and Authors, both leading advocates for freelance writers, are currently working to bring fair compensation to the author in these cases. I will give some examples below.

Here is a minor instance of digital Rights grabbing from my own experience. It wasn’t important to me, because I wrote the bit primarily for PR purposes and to gain visibility for my publishing business in the community to that I had just moved.

In April I put up my office in Savannah, Georgia, with relocated from Fort Lauder dale. I contacted the editor of a tabloid supplement to the Savannah Morning News called Coastal Senior and suggested an article,”How to Write (and Publish) a Living Family History.” The editor accepted the guide, told me just how much he’d pay. I wrote the piece and it was published.

A week later the editor who’d Purchased my slice sent me a”contract” to signal so he could cut me a check. The arrangement, I found, granted to the newspaper not only first serial rights, but the other rights, including digital rights, web rights, and also the right to use and distribute my slice from any other means currently in existence or that might one day come into existence. Talk about a broad source of rights! The same thing will occur to you, when you’re do not take care to read the small print. Most of us achieve some sort of freelance profitability by recycling articles, by selling them over once to non-competing niches or simply by recycling them later in books. A contract like the one my newspaper sent me makes these multiple applications technically prohibited

Luckily this bit, for me personally, was a throwaway. I wrote it for some publicity and name recognition also did not intend to promote it elsewhere. But I doubt that I would have signed the arrangement giving up all rights had I ever noticed it before book.

The POD Blues: Star bound Books.

Technically print on demand is Essentially a way of production, available to anybody who chooses to use this, and most printers that provide print on demand providers have nothing to do with the true business of publishing at all. On the other hand, the technology has been adopted by a range of companies that promote themselves as”POD publishers” These include such firms as I Universe, 1st Publications, a couple of the biggest and best known. So”print on demand” has come to endure, by extension, for a kind of publishing.

As a example of POD as a publishing This is a real company, and the facts below are presented in their brochures. The title, however, is fictitious. Star bound Books invites authors to send in their novels for publication. Star bound Books promises to”publish” those novels, formatting the inside and designing a cover at an affordable price, using standard templates. It’s not difficult to get printed at Star bound. If you have written a book that doesn’t transgress the laws of libel or decency, it is likely to be accepted by Star bound.

Star bound becomes the writer of It assigns an ISBN into the work published and also has a contract with writer specifying royalties to be paid on retail sales and income sharing on sales of subsidiary rights-if any retail sales or rights sales do actually occur. Star bound Books promises to make the writer’s publication”accessible” in bookstores and other outlets. Note that this doesn’t mean that the books will really on the plate. It only suggests that the author’s book will be listed in the Books-in-Print database, so readily available for special order whenever a customer asks for such an order.

A POD publisher provides contracts Very damaging to the writer who has paid upfront to receive his book published, siphoning off income from rights sales which it does little or nothing to earn.

Here is how it works. A writer, frustrated with his or her inability locate a publisher to get a manuscript, sees and advertisement to get a Web-based publisher that offers to print any publication, in print and/or eBook formats, even for what appears like a small fee, generally a few hundred bucks. The writer further offers to pay the author a royalty of twenty five to forty percent on books marketed to sell books to this writer himself in a reduction of up to fifty percent off the retail cost. The writer also offers to pay the author a hefty proportion of any money obtained through the sale of all subsidiary rights.

So what’s wrong with this offer? Here Are only a couple of ways that this arrangement can go wrong to the unwary author:

1. The publisher doesn’t have editing, And so the published books suffers greatly-often fatally-from the absence of expert editorial input.

2. The publisher uses a template Design format into which he compels many different kinds of publication. The one selected for your publication may not be at all appropriate. Reviewers who choose up an ill-designed book usually down it just as quickly.

3. The writer does nothing at all To advertise the authors book. The simple fact is explicit at the presentations made by leading POD. .

4. The author’s book is not likely To be assessed in an substantial and important review media. The reason is that, since the POD publishers will bring out any author, no matter how bad or good he can be, is prepared to pay for, many review sources frequently pass them as not worthy of their infrequent editorial period.

5. Lots of POD publishers will Ask the writer hint far more of his rights that is called for. They do this so that, in the rare instance that one of the titles should develop into a hot seller-in spite of the fact that they have done nothing to make it do so-they, as publisher, will stand to reap a significant part of any profits made without incurring any dangers at all.

6. The POD publisher provides it is Services in rock-bottom rates-often as little as a couple hundred dollars to begin with. But in case you need and custom layout characteristics, proofreading, editing, or individual cover design this base price rises very rapidly

So if Star bound’s novels are unlikely To market, how does the company make money. Straightforward. ? Let’s say, further, that Star bound Books has 1000 authors every month, each of whom requests 25 copies of his or her book for relatives, friends, and local reviewers, then the earnings is substantial. One million slowed by 25 equals 25,000. This generates an annual income of $2,421,000. If you think about that Star bound Books, because it’s a POD publisher, has no investment in inventory, no need for warehousing or satisfaction solutions, and that the entire enterprise, once set up, can perform business almost entirely from the thin air of hyperspace, the net gain is substantial.

Star bound doesn’t have to sell your Books to anybody else to earn money. They sell a lot of them to do that.

Getting Out of It

A few of these problems on its website:”With online books,” that the NU says,” the systems of distribution and promotion are being reinvented, therefore writers should take nothing for granted. They ought to insist on contract terms that detail, to the extent possible, the ways in which the online publisher is going to make potential readers conscious of the existence of the work (online promotion, print promotion, etc.) as well as the ways that they are supplied access (by email simply, by World Wide Web( or whatever). The period of the grant of rights might be tied to certain commitments by publishers with respect to availability and promotional budgets.

Authors may also want to Think about a Provision saying that following the publisher has exhausted its agreed-on promotional budget, a portion of the future royalties from the work be used for marketing, which might help expand therein-print’ life of their job. Print book contracts generally provide for the conclusion of this grant of rights in the event the publisher does one of several things: fails to print the publication within a reasonable period of time, fails to pay royalties, or permits the job to go out of print. Each one these provisions should be adopted in online book contracts.” For more about this I refer you directly to the internet site of the Writer’s Union.

Data Bases

You have written an Guide and Gotten it published. A so-called digital”data base” picks up it and stores it, along with thousands of additional articles, in its own files. When a client calls the information base company and asks all information on a given topic, the data base’s computers spew out all relevant information, including anything you may have written and published on the topic and published in an indexed magazine or paper. You don’t get a cent in compensation, although the novel where your article was first printed might have”offered” the right to use your post into the information base in the first place.

The National Writer’s Union accounts That there are more than 100 NU members protesting the sale of their work at elevated costs to users without a cent being paid to authors. Of the many databases engaged in this practice, we have focused our efforts on one of their largest, Information Access Company (AC), to play honest. (AC works full-text databases on CompuServe, Dow Jones News Retrieval, and other websites.) While we hope that the lawsuit as well as the protests will establish principles of justice and equity in electronic publishing, the NU is also interested in finding practical solutions to problems. Consequently, in line with the principles set forth in this record, we’ve established the Publication Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), a collective-licensing agency inspired by the music industry’s ASCAP. PRC has set up a transaction-based authors’ electronic-rights advertising and royalty collection system using all the Uncover Company. Uncover operates the world’s biggest journal and magazine article database, which is an affiliate of Knight-Bidder, Inc.”


A final way that a dishonest author Can perform some intellectual picking of your intellectual pockets is by simply plagiarizing your job. The plagiarist doesn’t just steal you ideas. He enjoys your words too. Plagiarism isn’t widespread in professional writing and industrial publishing since it is so simple to spot and so easy to prove. In all but a few rare instances plagiarism is little more than a hassle.

Faculty and college students confronted with a term paper deadline on a topic they know absolutely nothing about. It is now starting to be controlled by special computer programs developed to detect plagiarized texts. Although reprehensible, this kind of copying is unlikely to harm anyone financially.

More serious consequences may occur After the plagiarism is high level and extensive. In the past year, two well-known historians, Doris Earns and Stephen Ambrose, were discovered to have used materials in their job lifted from other writers without attribution or notice. Neither of those authors needed to lift text written by others. In my opinion the misstep can from other sources. Most prolific scholars and authors of extensive, broadly-sweeping narratives routinely apply research assistants to perform leg work to get them and gather relevant notes and references.

Some of these notes more than likely Found their way into the finished text because the attribution was omitted at the research assistant level. Nobody will claim that the authors whose work had been stolen were really harmed by the theft. Those most offended by the revelations were Kern and Ambrose themselves, who were injured where it hurt most: in their reputations.

Sometimes, though, the plagiarism is
More extensive and much less excusable.

H. G. Wells, the British author of These mega-hits as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, published, in 1920 a book of non-fiction, The Outline of History. I recall reading it through my school years, back in the 1950’s. I wondered how it had been possible for one man to know a lot.

As it turned out, it was not He plagiarized a fantastic portion of his book from a Canadian writer, Florence Seeks, whose very own outline of history he had read in manuscript form. (New York, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2002).

Why a Union?

I’ve suggested that readers visit The internet site of the National Writer’s Union, figure out what they are up to, and consider joining. I propose this because there’s power in numbers. Individually, writers have very little chance of winning a legal battle with a large, strong and above all, well-financed business or corporation. In the American court system, the man with the most money nearly always wins. That’s why serious writers must ban together and, in effect, pool their resources to create legal precedents that will help shield them from the type of literary piracy that the data base firms are currently practicing and out of the occasional depredations of unscrupulous authors like H.G. Wells.

THOMAS A. WILLIAMS, PHD, is one of Promotion of books. Along with his work as writing and editing mentor, he