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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Protecting Your Ideas

Let's suppose you have this super-amazing, sparkly idea and you know it's a winner and you realize you have to copyright it right now.  (After all you don't want someone to steal your super-amazing, sparkly idea, right?)  You call up a lawyer friend and ask what you need to do to copyright your super-amazing, sparkly idea and lawyer friend says:
"You can't copyright an idea."

Your heart sinks.  It seems so unfair!  Your idea is so super-amazing and sparkly, someone's bound to steal it and make gazillions.  Why can't you protect your idea?

Here are two things to remember:

1) You can protect your idea.  It's called a trade secret, so as long as you don't spill the secret, it's protected.  If you want to protect your idea, zip the lip.

2) The idea is not the book.  We've talked about what makes ideas unique and one of the most important things to remember is that ideas are not books.  You could have two books with very similar ideas and yet the execution of the concept turns out to be completely different.  This is true in works outside of literature too.

Examples:

Dracula vs. Twilight
These two books couldn't be more different.  But, if you strip away all the peripheral details, the idea behind these books is strangely similar.

Boy meets girl.
Boy obsesses over girl.
Turns out boy's a vampire.
 

Antz vs. A Bug's Life
Anyone who's ever seen both of these movies knows that while the concept is the same, the execution couldn't be more different.  Even looking at the DVD covers you get a sense that these are two very different movies.


In the end, it all comes down to this: ideas are not books.  Books are books.  If you're worried about protecting the idea for your book before you've written the whole thing, then you need to keep the details secret until you're done writing.

Keep in mind, though, that even if someone does have an idea that's vaguely similar to yours, they will never be able to execute the idea quite the same way you will and that's where you're protected by copyright.  While you can't copyright an idea, you can copyright the expression of an idea.  Once you've written the book, you can copyright that book as an expression of that original idea.

Up next week: Infringement (stealing someone's expression of an idea) and Derivative Works (work that is derived from other copyrighted work)

Any questions?  I'M planning a Q&A post with lawyer hubby in a few weeks, so if you've got any questions you want to ask, email them to me and I'll get those answers.

2 comments:

David Powers King said...

Spot on! I was so worried that someone would steal my super original sparkly idea from my first book that I didn't share it with anyone. Not the greatest thing to do when starting out. However, no one has done it yet, so I'm good.

Zip the lip. That's all you can do.

Funny thing about Antz and Bug's life--they came out in the same year, too.

Linda Fischer said...

Thanks so much! Zip my lip. Zip my lip. zip my lip.... but i"m so excited! zip my lip...

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