Is your book about to be stolen?

Is Your Story About to Be Stolen?

This week’s video answers the question, “Is your story about to be stolen?” (via plagiarism or piracy) and offers some tips to combat it.

Video Transcript:

Today, I’m not going to talk about writing tips so much as just a fact of the writing life. A question I get asked fairly often is, “How do I protect my book from being stolen?” Our originality is our stock in trade, so the last thing in the world we want is to have our ideas or our words stolen from us. Word theft, as such, comes in two different varieties. To begin with we have, plain ol’ plagiarism, in which someone takes your idea or your words and passes them off as their own. Second, we have piracy, in which someone takes your book, probably still attributes it to you, but distributes it without your permission and without providing you any remuneration.

So how common are these problems? And how can you protect yourself? In answer to the first question, I’m going to be absolutely blunt: Unless you are Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, it is very unlikely that anyone is going to plagiarize or pirate your writing. Particularly, if you’re yet to be published, you have very little to worry about. Agents and editors are not going to steal your work. Your skeezy best friend may steal your idea, but unless he happens to be able to write like King and Gaiman, don’t worry about it. He’s not going to make any money off your idea. So basically, my first response to authors on this subject is always, “It’s not worth worrying about.”

However, if you do feel you need to take extra steps to protect yourself, then here are a couple things you should know about copyrights. First of all, your work is technically copyrighted the moment you put it on paper. You’ve written it down, it belongs to you, end of story. But if you want to take it a step further and make certain you have demonstrable proof of your ownership of that copyright, you can register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office. And that, my friends, is Book Protection 101.

Tell me your opinion: Do you ever worry about piracy or plagiarism?

Is your book about to be stolen?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. The most important thing a writer can do if they’re concerned about their work being copied is make their writing as widely available as they possibly can. Offer it in all the popular formats and make it affordable. DRM won’t help, it’ll frustrate readers when the system fails and only slow the pirates down slightly.

    I don’t believe there’s any genuine need to worry about piracy. Some people will absolutely never pay for anything no matter what you do, and high availability ensures that the people willing to pay for your work will pay for your work.

    Also consider, if you choose not to employ copy protection, you’re showing your reader a great deal of trust and respect, and as a result many will return the favor by not pirating your work. It’s certainly the policy I have, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Good points. Assuming we’re published, the easier we make it for readers to buy our books, the less likely they’ll be to pirate it.

  2. Hi,
    I am in that first category. I haven’t had a book published yet, and I am definitely not well known as a writer, but it is nice to know that I can mail my book to myself, and I have book protection.
    Thank you.
    Ciao,
    Patti

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I’ve never personally felt the need to mail my book to myself, and I’ve never had issues with plagiarism or major piracy. But it *is* nice to have that peace of mind if you’re worried about it.

  3. I love this. What a reality check!

    When I was younger and at the beginning of my creative career, I hoarded all of my stories and poems until I felt they were absolutely done. On occasion, I did the mail-to-myself thing. I was definitely worried that someone would steal something… the words… the idea. But as I got more and more involved with the industry and other authors, I learned a few things.

    First, writing is work and selling your writing is hard! 99.9% of people aren’t going to steal your ideas and try to write the best seller you are trying to write! That takes a great deal of effort!

    Second, you’re not as great as you think you are–yet. Or rather…your first draft (and maybe a few subsequent drafts!) aren’t as hot as you think they are–yet! That’s your ego telling you that you are so awesome that someone can steal your MS and make a million bucks off of it whilst you wallow in despair… (And if Stephen King or someone at Random House steals the MS you sent and you really ARE that good–well, write another you talented SOB! You’ve got some career ahead of you! LOL)

    Third, it doesn’t happen out in the “real” world as much as you think it does. Where it “sort of” happens most often is during your younger writing years– high school and college. Besides the obvious kid-stuff plagiarism, there will be people who steal your ideas–your story premises. It will usually be someone you know. It’s frustrating to the say the least. It happened to me a couple times while I was pursuing my creative writing degrees. However, the stealing of ideas… well… it doesn’t matter, IMO because….

    Fourth, I had more than one teacher or mentor tell me that there is a finite number of plots in the universe. Every story has been told. Every premise articulated. What makes it unique is how YOU tell it. To illustrate this, one of my mentors told me the premise for a short story he was working on. He told me to take it and write my own story. Needless to say–they were two completely different stories. (His was much better and my ego took a hit–but that was lesson too!)

    Now-a-days, I comfortably share excerpts from various drafts on Facebook and have no problem sharing premises and ideas with my fellow writers in various workshops and so forth. Taking a premise and playing “what if” with others can produce some fantastic results! Besides, hoarding kills creativity, IMO and it keeps you from learning how to take and incorporate criticism. Someone somewhere is probably tapping into the same cosmic think tank you are and is already working on the idea anyway! 🙂

    • Spot on – on every point. Although plagiarism and piracy certainly does happen, there are many better things we should spend our time worrying about, such as being awesome enough that someone would actually *want* to steal our work!

  4. I echo the advice of making sure stories are easily accessible. It’s sad when someone steals a blog post or artwork, but I don’t let it get to me. Ask nicely or send takedown notice. Stealing of unpublished novel must be very rare unless working with questionable people, rare enough that I’m not going to go to an extra trouble beyond backing up the story in a fire safe.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Very often, smaller thefts (such as blog posts or photos) happen because the thief is ignorant of Internet societal mores. A gentle reminder is often all it takes to right the wrong.

  5. The only time I’ve ever worried about plagiarism was when I was in a specific writer’s group. I just didn’t trust some of the participants to do the right thing — not so much to try to make money off a story they hadn’t written, but, say, try to pass off someone else’s story as their own at a different writer’s group. It wasn’t loss of income that had me concerned, but needless drama.

    I wound up leaving that group (no surprise there) and haven’t really had any major anxiety about it since.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      In my (not personal, but from hearing other people’s stories) experience, problems with theft usually come down to individuals we know, rather than faceless entities. If we ever get a bad feeling about a person or group, the responsibility is on us to take appropriate defensive action. Sometimes, we’re better off overreactive and safe than sorry.

  6. Kay Anderson says

    Good tips! Thanks! 🙂

  7. K.M.– In terms of actual manuscript-length work being stolen, my guess is that most of those who worry about it are inordinately proud of what they’ve written. It’s not wrong to like your work, but to assume language thieves and poachers lurk behind every cyberspace corner is vain, as well as unrealistic. As for people who snatch things written in blogs, etc., about that I don’t know much. The worry I’ve seen and heard most has largely to do with wannabe writers convinced someone will steal their great idea. This makes little sense: as you say very eloquently, the idea for a novel is nothing more than the starting gun in a long race. And: ideas are a dime a dozen. Successfully implementing them is a whole different ball game.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Totally agree. Thieves aren’t interested in up and comers, simply because up and coming authors are – frankly – not worth stealing. Once we’re household names, then we can worry about getting ripped off by nameless, faceless cyber-criminals.

  8. The mail it to yourself procedure is an old myth. I believe it is anywhere you find facts about U.S. copyright laws, I understand it is just as ineffective in other countries. It is called “Poor Man’s Copyright” and is even on Snopes.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I did some further research on this, and you’re right. It’s not so much that it’s a “myth” as just that it’s often less than effective when the rubber meets the road. I’ve amended the post accordingly. Thanks for the feedback!

  9. Aren’t we all thieves deep down inside? It’s really hard to stay original nowadays, I mean if one really analyse and look deeply into recent novels and movies, one would find that they are just a mix of different past classics and stories. I thought that the book I’m currently writing is a new plot but I realised that I have stolen some ideas and plots from fairytales and other stories. I guess originality lies in an individual’s wiring technique and ability to manipulate his works and so one can be a thief and not at the same time!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Willa Cather once said, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they never happened.” And another wise person once said, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.” But I think we’ll all agree that there’s a difference between accumulating the stories and words of others, absorbing them, and then using them to create our own vision – and just flat-out ripping off someone else’s ideas or words.

  10. Stuart Haywood says

    Very interesting and informative page thank you. I live in the UK and began writing just for fun really. I self published a novel in 2007 with Lulu. Just so I could give copies to family etc really. So when I did not sell any it was no surprise. However in July of 2012 a few copies were sold to someone in the US. Two months later a best seller came out by a renowned author. My story was about animals working together and attacking humans, it was called Zoo. Yes he even used the same title. Now some may say this is coincidence but the time line suggests other.
    My faith in the honesty and integrity of the literary world has been severely dented. I have published four more novels since and just wonder if any of these will be someone else’s est seller. Why do the big boys feel the need to usurp us unknowns in order to enrich their already bulging bank accounts. I would welcome any advice on this as I simply have no where to go with it. Many thanks for reading this, kind regards

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very sorry to hear that. If there’s any silver lining at all in something like this, then at least you know your story idea was good enough to be stolen. If indeed, the big boys did steal your idea, then I’m afraid the answer can be only that “they can.” Sad, but true. If you’re not wanting to pursue a lawsuit, then I would suggest at least penning a letter to the author and the production company stating your concerns.

      • Dave Conner says

        Thanks for this article. So very informative. Sorry to hear your story Stuart Hayward.
        I am in the process of completing my first novel. I too believe I have written a great idea in my field. It has a target audience and I see it in film. I am a songwriter and have written the whole soundtrack. This was how it started: through my songs. Obviously for one person to do this task on their own is very ambitious! I have seeked help and tried to get others to get envolved as it is very very lonely. So seeking approval I have sent out synopsis of the plot and bits and pieces to those in my target audience and now law and behold: there is a film coming out with very similar ideas. What advice would you offer? Dave

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          There’s nothing new under the sun. Every idea is bound to have something in common with an already existing story. In all honesty, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you love your story, write it the way you love it.

          My fantasy Dreamlander is based on the idea of a parallel dream world – not a new idea at all. But it’s my version of the idea that makes it unique. Right now, I’m working on a superhero story. Hardly anything hasn’t been done in that genre, but there’s always room for an author’s personal (and therefore unique) spin. If you’re passionate about your idea, that’s the first and most important ingredient.

  11. Katherine Kahn says

    I was very trusting of other writers, until I had my writing mentor steal a scene from a short story of mine that she had critiqued. She used it in a novel that ended up being published and I found out what she had done while reading it. I felt appalled and violated–she was my teacher. No it was not word-for-word plagiarism, it was a very specific scene that she lifted to use as a basis for a similar scene in her book. I believe it was intentional–she was under contract with her publisher and had been struggling to finish the draft. Yes there are only a finite number of ideas in the story universe, but she didn’t have to be so “inspired” by my lowly short story. It would have made me angry if it were another peer writer, but the fact that it was my mentor really was the kicker. Mentors and teachers must be held to higher standards of conduct–they have a responsibility to their students.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Weiland: Is Your Story About to Be Stolen? […]

  2. […] Basically, you don’t have to worry about this – because it never happens to aspiring authors.  Here is a very helpful article with a video that says this better than I could. […]

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