Sunday, March 1, 2015

Copyright Paranoia

Ever since I've let people know I'm seriously pursuing a writing career, several folks have approached me for advice on how to break in, as if I'm some kind of expert.  While I appreciate the confidence, I usually remind them that I'm little more than an unpublished writer at present.  However, what I do have is a broader base of knowledge due to the research I've done.  In essence, I'm a great big shortcut.

In the mix of these folks who've sought out my advice for new writers, a handful have approached me with that old writers' paranoia - what will happen if someone steals my idea?

This is a common problem among newbie writers.  We're all convinced that we've stumbled into the next Great American Masterpiece that we're certain if word ever got out, legions of unscrupulous bastards will take our stuff and claim it for their own.  I have a one word answer for this.

(Everybody needs to chill out.  Naptime might help with that)
First of all, most folks are too busy to go around and take your idea for a story.  Even most writers are too busy for that.  Besides, they have their own (INCREDIBLE!  AWESOME!) stories to write.  Further, those rare people who are unethical enough to try and steal an idea aren't going to go after yours - they're going to find a story that's already sold a gazillion copies and claim they wrote it first.  This has happened to JK Rowling and Stephen King.  In other words, they're doing the reverse of the thing you're most paranoid about by claiming they wrote something before that great bestseller and the novel was stolen from them.
Also, you need to keep in mind what's protected and what's not.  The way you write a story is protected, ie - the words and such.  However, you can't copyright an idea.  If that were the case, there'd have been no more vampire stories after Dracula, and God knows the stores are clogged with them.  It's the specifics of the story that makes it protected.
You also can't copyright a title.  There are lots of books out there that have the same title.  For that matter, I could write a novel called "War and Peace" right now and try to put it out there, but most intelligent book readers would know the difference.
As to the story itself, if you're really that concerned about it, just find a way to document when you wrote it.  That could be as simple as giving a few pages to a friend to read.  Do that, and BAM, you've established a date.  Or you could email it to yourself.  Or you could just screen capture the date on your computer when you saved it.
But please do these things only if you're really paranoid about it and doing this will let you sleep better at night.  If you're halfway serious in writing as a career, you've acquired beta-readers anyway, so people know you wrote it and when.
Chill out and remember that no one can tell your story better than you can...and most don't want to.  You may think you have a story that will sell millions of copies, but until it catches fire and proves that assertion, no one else will have as much faith in it as you do, no matter how often you're told it's terrific.

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