How To Protect Your Writing

By on May 14, 2016

So you have a genius idea for a story, and you want to make sure that no one else comes up with the same thing, or, even worse, hears about your idea and decides to write about it themselves. Is there anything you can do? Understanding what your rights are when it comes to protecting your stories, and indeed, even your ideas, is important for any writer.

First things first. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. According to Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act, “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated or embodied in such work.”

So if you do have a brilliant idea, what can you do to protect it?

The best way is to get it written down as soon as possible. Stories, fortunately, are hard to copy in the same way that inventions or business ideas might be. It is highly unlikely that another writer will come up with exactly the same concept as you, and write it in exactly the same way.

Therefore, while it doesn’t hurt to be cautious,  being overly secretive or protective of ideas is probably an unnecessary precaution. Sharing your writing ideas with friends and colleagues can be beneficial and help them to develop and grow - if your story is truly brilliant and unique, just make sure you trust the people you explain it to if it is still in the figurative stages.

Once you have produced a piece of written work however, you have protection. Many people make the mistake of believing that they need to have their work published before it can be protected by copyright law, even more believe that you need to put the copyright symbol at the end of your work to ensure its protection. This is not the case. The fact is, as soon as you create your piece of writing, it is automatically protected by copyright law.

If you want to be extra vigilant however, there are additional measures you can take so that in the event of a dispute you have more of a legal standing. Copyrighting your work with official bodies, such as the Writers Guild of America and the U.S. Copyright Office will ensure it is protected should a legal dispute occur.

If you do end up in a legal battle, what do you need to do?

Well first and foremost there must be sufficient similarities between your work and the other parties to make a case. Secondly you must be able to prove that you were the originator of the piece of writing that is in dispute.

It is important to note that, particularly in the writing world, there is plenty of crossover. J K Rowling, for example, cannot go around suing everyone who decides to write a story about the adventures of a boy wizard, in fact stories about adventures of boy wizards have been around a lot longer then Harry Potter!

However, should someone decide to write a series of books about a boy wizard named Harry Potter who attends a school called Hogwarts and has a scar on his forehead, then she would have a good case to take them to court, and undoubtedly copyright law would ensure she would win the case.

It is important to reiterate that someone reading your work, repackaging it and trying to profit from it themselves is highly unlikely.

It actually takes a great deal of work to do this cleverly, and to not get caught out, particularly if your work has been published. Take the above example - no publisher in their right mind is going to think publishing a series of books about a boy wizard called Harry Potter who attends a school called Hogwarts and has a scar on his forehead is now a good idea!

It is a good idea however, to gather evidence of your written work so that you are easily able to prove that you are the creator of it should a copyright dispute occur.

Keep a folder with your novel outline, character descriptions and chapter summaries, as well as each and every draft of your work. It is a good idea to save new drafts separately rather then updating just one document each time - that way it is easy to see the date when it was first created, and subsequent revisions as you have developed the story.

Keep records of any emails, research, meetings or any other important information about your work - this will build a useful record of not only timelines, but also who has had access to your work and who has been privy to its development. Make a copy of the folder and send it to someone you trust - this may be an editor, agent, family member or friend. Having a backup is always a good idea!

Finally, make sure that you send your work to agents and publishers with a good reputation. There is no reason why you shouldn’t send you work to small, independent organisations, but if you haven’t heard of them then it is good to do a little background research to make sure they are legitimate.

Following the above advice should ensure that your work is protected in the unlikely event that anyone tries to copy it. If you need any further clarity or information about copyrighting your work check out the Copyright Office website!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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