Lately, I've been in discussions with a few writers about protecting our stories and ideas. And editor, Chuck Sambuchino had some important information on what we should know...

Every writer worries about protecting his or her work and ideas. I don't know about you, but I don't even like talking about my fiction work until it's finished. I'm wary that someone in the next room listening through the wall (with a glass, probably) will hear my concept for a play [story] and secretly open up a Word doc right there with their own take on the plot.

In fact, I've met people at writers' conferences who refuse to pitch their work in front of other people because they're scared of exactly what we're talking about - idea theft. Copyright is a subject often discussed in writers' groups and at conferences. Naturally, people want to protect themselves. No matter how much you want to guard your work, you'll need to let others see it before sending it out, so you can get some feedback on what works and what doesn't. A mix of ideas and criticism is healthy. After all, you don't have to take every suggestion that someone throws your way. Just be careful to team up with some writing peers who you can trust, and who can give you reliable thoughts on the work.


As creators and writers, we're all concerned about protecting our work and ideas. And that's why the subject of copyright comes up so often in questions that I get asked. With that in mind, here are some common copyright Q&As.

Q. If you mail yourself a copy of your manuscript and then never open the package, is that the equivalent of an official copyright?
A. No. What you're talking about is called "poor man's copyright." I don't know who first perpetuated this myth, but it is indeed a myth.

Q. Are there different kinds of copyright?
A. Two kinds, basically. To put this simply, there is the "guaranteed copyright" you get whenever you write anything down, and there is the official copyright (think of it as a "super copyright") you get when you register with the national office in DC. The difference between the two is that having a "super copyright" (which will cost you approx. $45/work) will allow you to sue for more money and damages should you ever have to sue.

Q. Should I include the copyright symbol on my work?
A. If you're submitting to agents and editors, no. They know that the material is owned by you, so including the mark is the sign of an amateur. However, if you are giving your work to fellow writers or putting it online, yes yes yes. Agents and editors don't steal work; writers steal work.

Q. In general, what can I do to protect myself?
A. Don't put your work online unless there is a good reason to do so. If you post a short story online so people can get a taste of your skill and voice, you are letting your idea out there. People cannot cut and paste paragraphs of your work, that's for sure, but they can take your concept or idea and give their own spin on it.

Meanwhile, do you have any practical and simple tips on protecting your work that can help other writers? How do you protect your WIP or any work that is not yet published?



Debs said...

Such an interesting subject, and thank you for the tips.

I don't generally post any of my work, but I have attended classes at a conference where my first paragraph has been read out.

I suppose if someone does take your idea and use it, they will have their own way of writing that will more than likely be different to yours.

Christina Phillips said...

This is a very interesting topic, Kaye. I used to post excerpts of my finished work on my website, but stopped a couple of years ago when I heard from somewhere it might not be a good idea.

When it comes to discussing my current ideas, I find I can't even discuss them properly with my cps. However, that has nothing to do with trust (since I trust my cps absolutely) but more that once I try to verbalise the strange images swirling through my mind, they tend to vaporise into the ether! So I send them two or three chapters at a time and they see the story unfold that way, and I honestly can't imagine being without their insights, suggestions and constructive support.

You're absolutely right about teaming up with writing peers you can trust and whose opinion on your work you respect. I've never posted works in progress online where I wouldn't have that choice of knowing who exactly was reading my work.

Kaye Manro said...

That's true, Debs-- someone else's story, even if taken from your idea would most likely be very different.

Some good points, Christina--I beleive now it's a good idea not to post any of your work online until you at least have a contract. Like you I use to post excerpts and also a list of several blurbs. I don't do that anymore. Yet, posting a free read on a website as a promo tool could be fine if you don't plan on selling the material to a publisher.

I do agree that having trusted cps are important. The help they give is invaluable. And those swirling story ideas? I get them too. It is hard to discuss them with another until they become solid writing.

I too depend on my cps. One in particular I wouldn't trade for the world. She has been with me for several years and we have developed a great friendship as well as being cps. Another, not exactly a cp because she is an editor and doesn't wtite romance, gives me such indispensable input.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your wonderful comments, Debs, Christina.

Linda Banche said...

I've never posted anything online, and I'm even wary of talking about my ideas.

I've sent stuff to contests. The ones who didn't like my WIP wouldn't steal it, and the others, well, I guess I have to take my chances.

To add my two bits to the copyright info, copyright law has the "One Sale Rule", which says that if you buy a copyrighted item, you can sell it once. You cannot make 5 copies and sell those 5 copies. For those of us who are e-pubbed, making copies of our books and selling the copies is illegal. Making copies and giving them away is also illegal.

Helen Hardt said...

To add to what Linda said, enforcing copyright of epubbed items is extremely difficult and is almost impossible to do with any consistency. I certainly don't have the answer, but it seems clear that epublishing is the way of the future. Yet, without laws that can be enforced, how will we authors be protected against piracy?


Kaye Manro said...

Good question Helen, and one that needs exploring. If anyone knows about the copyright governing e-pub, please let us know.

Thanks Linda for the added input. It certainly helps to know all we can about the subject of copyright.

Linda Banche said...

The copyright on e-pubbed books is exactly the same as on paper books. But as Helen says, enforcing it is extremely difficult.

Cate said...

Good questions and answers all.

Elizabeth said...

This is a real good post, Kaye. I don't understand why any writer would actually steal from another. Writers should support each other, right?

Dianne said...

So why would anyone do that? take another writer's ideas? It doesn't make much sense to me. I can't even grasp there are those who do that.

Rhonda said...

Enforcement of copyright protection on any thing delivered via the web is extremely difficult but there are a few things that can be done. Now keep in mind that the below items will not completely deter a tech-savvy determined individual.

If your book is delivered online via PDF the individual who creates the PDF can set security settings to hide or disable the Save As and Print features. Also, PDF documents can be password protected, though this could introduce additional issues for content delivery.

If you have a website, you can call a cascading style sheet on your web pages that will produce a blank page should someone try to print out the page from the website. There are also various code options that can be included on a web page to disable right clicking.

The biggest challenge is to prevent any use of the clipboard for those users who have a Windows based operating system. Read an example of a way to do this here.

Kaye Manro said...

Rhonda, this is truly great info. It seems to me that keeping work from being copied by anyone on an e-pub website, even in PDF should fall to the publisher. I'm not sure about e-publishers, but I know that at e-harlequin they do have the protections on their e-books. So other e-publishers need to get with it too. And great ideas about protecting your website-- Rhonda, I think you need to guess blog here and talk about this more, since you do know this stuff. Thanks, Kaye