Saturday, May 19, 2007

Copyright, Intellectual Property, and the Threat of Pythons


How do you protect the stories you send out. Copyright? or return receipt from the post office , etc?

This is a not infrequently asked question. The worry that your manuscripts need protection is pretty unnecessary, but let's go through this once anyway.

I don't send out stories, but if I did: copyright is more trouble than it's worth, and I've heard that the ways of documenting your manuscript via mail are not terribly secure in the legal sense.

This is where your critique group comes in handy. If you have been using a critique group, as you should, you have witnesses. But this is just a safeguard for worriers.

Let me be clear. The chances of your manuscript being stolen while at any of the reputable publishing houses are essentially the same as the chances you'll be killed by a python while riding a streetcar.

...But perhaps you're afraid someone will steal your idea. This is the concern that makes people at publishing houses laugh their espresso out of their noses. Your undeveloped, unrealized idea is intellectual property? Ah, the irony.

In publishing, execution is everything. Say, in 1998, somebody had come to me with the idea for a book about a kid who finds out he's magical and has to go away to school to learn about magic. My response would have been somewhere between "Eh," and "It's been done." Because it had been done. It took JK Rowling to express that idea in a way that was really what the market wanted. Behold the difference between idea and execution.

Ideas are not only a dime a dozen, they're recycled at a rate too fast to track. Write badly, and it doesn't matter how brilliant and original your idea is. Write well, and it doesn't matter how many times before your idea has been done.

Now go write!

7 comments:

Williebee said...

Guy gets killed by a python on a streetcar?? Hey, you stole my idea!

:)

Sean McManus said...

The Society of Authors said in the magazine last year some time that they would be interested to know if anyone had used the defence of having something posted to themself record delivery. I heard about that technique in the 80s, so it's donkeys' years old. But the jury's out on whether it's any use or not.

darling vicarage said...

thanks so much for this post....it never ceases to amaze me how many people worry if you copyright an idea, when essentially, the idea is almost irrelevant if the writing isn't working.

Eric said...

A created work (written, recorded, etc.) already has copyright protection by the nature of its existance. This has been the case since 1978, I think. You need not apply for it; applying simply says that you are declaring to the world that you want to be recognized as having copyright, But you can do this for free by attaching a circle/c and the year and your name to it. Registering is a waste of $30.

IDEAS --- now that's a diffr'nt critter.

Anonymous said...

Forgive my cluelessness, but the storyline of the kid who finds out he's magic and has to go to magic school . . . who else did it first?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen

Anonymous said...

Doesn't this mean that one could read a synopsis and get an established and popular author to write a book using the ideas, instead of the unknown writer?
Ideas can be generated easily, but some are developed over some years of a writer's life and practice.