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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Whose Idea Is It, Anyway?

The other day, my fellow Second Wind author JJ Dare wrote an interesting post on ideas that really got me thinking. Entitled “Steal This“, the post tackled the issue of authors (or one, at least) blatantly stealing ideas from other authors and writing their own stories from them. Now this is a little different than coming up with a story based upon a similar premise. That happens all of the time – how else do you explain the plethora of vampire and shapeshifter books out there? The difference there, however, is that each author has taken the initial premise and made it their own, developing whole worlds that are far different than their peers’. This is also different than having someone say that you or your story inspired them to write their own and then to discover (happily, as I did) that their concept in no way mirrored your own. I have no problem with that. In fact, I revel in the experience of being the inspiration for others to write. What I have a problem with is people blatantly stealing from other people.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but sadly, it is becoming far too common. With stunning frequency, accounts are coming forward about one author lifting material from another and trying to pass it off as their own, as “original.” How they can do this with a clear conscience is a mystery to me. I labor every day to make my stories as unique as I possibly can. I won’t even read anything with a similar theme until long after my book is done because I don’t want it to influence me in any way or give anyone a reason to accuse me of pilfering. Sadly, it seems that too many people are jumping on the bandwagon of accusing (mostly famous) authors of stealing their ideas – and some are actually doing it. How did we ever come to this? Whatever happened to professional courtesy and respecting our peers?

After reading JJ’s story, I will be even more careful about sharing any ideas with others – until the ideas are 300-page books, that is. What about you? What do you think of the outbreak of plagiarism that has struck the book world lately? Will it make you more reluctant to share your ideas with others, or will you still participate in workshops and critique groups, trusting that no one will hijack your idea? And if you have any suggestions on how I can calm my fears of idea/story theft, please feel free to share them. All comments are greatly appreciated.

Author's Note: This post was originally published on the Second Wind blog at but I believe, in light of some more famous cases of idea theft (or plagiarism, if you will), that it deserves more attention. Please read JJ's post, Steal This, to see what got me so fired up. It might make you think a little differently in the future. Thank you, Margay

6 Moonbeams (comments):

Molly Daniels said...

This happened to me two years ago. My NaNo project was about a teacher who fell for a student's mom, and about six months later, two trusted authors had books out about....teachers falling for students or former students. And now, several others have 'decided' to put together a three-part series about former college roommates who reunite and fall in love with the men they left behind. Hmmm...gee that sounds so familiar...I can't quite put my finger on the ORIGINAL IDEA...and oh yeah...the 'new series' takes place in Indiana...once again, I wonder who came up with that concept first? (can you hear the sarcasm dripping from my fingertips? LOL:)

Great post, Margay...I agree that while the stories are in no way the same as mine, in the latter it would have been nice to have gotten a 'may we borrow your idea' email, or even asked to be included!

Gracen Miller said...

Wow! This definitely has me thinking, Margay. Who do you trust...can you trust that "trusted" crit partner? I certainly like to think I can trust mine. One of crit partners doesn't write herself, but she is great at tearing my stuff apart, offering suggestions and making me rethink the scene. The other crit's just hard for me to believe she'd do this to me. I certainly hope I'm right because trust is a hard thing to earn back if ever lost.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I'm going to check out your original post and JJ's Steal This one also.

So sorry this happened to you, Molly! I can only imagine the frustration. How is your book doing, btw?????

Margay Leah Justice said...

Molly, that is so disheartening. It really makes you wonder who you can trust these days. Are people so eager for the spotlight that they have no problem stealing it from someone else? I have no problem with people telling me that something I wrote inspired them to write - so long as what they write doesn't mirror mine too closely. But to pinch someone's idea from something like NaNoWriMo - that is brazen. Haven't they heard that once you write something down, you own the copyright to it? I am just shaking my head at this.

Margay Leah Justice said...

Gracen, JJ's post will make you shake your head, too. What happened to her was just as bad as what happened to Molly.

Anonymous said...

As I said, my book is nothing like the two already published, and the others arrive sometime next fall, so this should be interesting. My consolation is theirs is erotic, and my series is 'young adult smut', not smutty enough for the erotic romance genre.

But yes, it makes me keep future ideas close to me until they are finished. That way, the ones who can crank them out and send off to editors for near-immediate approval don't lift everything.

Book is going well:) Got two very good reviews, and since I've not heard back from editor, I'm about to send Teacher's Pet through the regular submission channels and see what happens. She's had it since April and no word; she had ASEW for three weeks before offering the contract!


Carrie said...

Yeah, it takes all kinds.

However, if the stories are different, the stories are different. In order for there to be true "plagiarism," there needs to be lots of blatant similarities.

Okay, enough technical stuff. While I might be frustrated at first, I have to look at it from the other side of the coin.

Ask yourselves this, how often have you read a story, listened to a song or watched a movie that inspired you to write? I don't know about you, but it happens all the time!

Now, Molly, I don't know the particulars of your situation. However, basic ideas, are just that, basic ideas. Think of Gilmore Girls. In there, Lorelei (the mom) had a relationship with her daughter's (Rory) teacher. I've also seen that "basic" storyline in a really big movie with Kate Hudson called Raising Helen where Helen dates the principle of her wards' school (mortifying them all at first!).

What makes one story different from another is the author's unique voice and perspective on the characters. As hard as someone might try, they can't recreate that unless they flat out take your words as you've put them on paper.

When you discuss something with another writer, it can turn into a "brainstorming" session, sparking ideas, whether you intend it or not. I read JJ's story and I really liked his daughter's comment that his story would still be very different from hers.

Yes, if your story inspires someone, they should acknowledge you at some point, especially in the dedication or book jacket, or someplace. At the moment, my first dedication will almost be an entire page because somewhere along the way, some author I read, some movie I watched or some song I listened to gave me an idea to do something, even if it is small.

One of my favorite stories was born out of watching a couple different Japanese Anime TV series. While these stories inspired one of favorite characters, it's my voice and the story he tells me that makes it very different from the ones I watched. Of course, I will pay homage to them.

We are human, we can't help it. If you still aren't convinced, think of it this way -
You can take two artists and place them in front of a fountain and have them paint it. Will both pictures be the same even though the subject is the same? No, they won't. One artist will see something the other missed, and vice versa.

The only way a story can truly be stolen is if it is taken character for character, word for word.

That's my opinion anyway.