“There are plagiarists everywhere and if I share my idea publicly before it’s legally protected then they’re going to steal it from me! Curse those wretched plagiarists!” This is a common misconception among new aspiring writers when they are first starting out that absolutely baffles me.
Let me assume for a moment that you’re one of these writers; You have a new idea and you’re super excited to write it down! It has everything you’ve ever wanted from a story, it has that final piece of the puzzle that other stories are missing and someday, it’s going to become your one-way ticket to success! Congratulations to you for coming up with something so unique!
Because of this, you absolutely must not share it with anyone! You can’t have people hearing about your idea and you especially can’t have people critiquing it for you. Otherwise, one of them is going to end up stealing it from you and with it, your predestined fame and glory.
There are so many things wrong about this way of thinking yet the subject comes up all the time in the writing community. I’ve discussed the folly of this mindset so many times that explaining it has become like a punishment exercise at school where I just write down the same lines over and over again.
From now on when someone brings up this subject, all I need to do is link them here to explain why your idea can’t and won’t be stolen.
Why You Can’t Own An Idea
First, let’s look at the definition of copyright and what it applies to. A lot of these poor, mistaken creators believe that their ideas will be left out for the vultures if they share them before acquiring some copyright protection. Except copyright protection doesn’t extend to concepts, ideas or expressions.
This is the definition of copyright:
To sum things up, copyright only applies to original works that can be deemed as “completed.” This applies to things such as novels, music, art, news articles, comics, 3D models, computer games and video media. Essentially, if you can sell it as a finished product then it’s yours by right and it’s protected by copyright.
Ideas don’t fit into that category, that’s not a matter up for debate. There is nobody who will buy the pitch without the product. Besides, if your idea only extends so far as the pitch then it’s not as unique as you think…yet.
I’ve discussed this before here but when it comes down to the basic pitch your idea can be made out to sound like anything else. You have an idea for a comedy about a dysfunctional family? Sounds a bit like the Simpsons to me! You want to write about a detective uncovering a conspiracy? There’s a ton of those too actually!
That doesn’t mean your idea won’t someday lead to the creation of something truly epic but while it’s just an idea, there is nothing to show that. The individuality of your story will not begin to show until it’s actually a story! Until then it’s just an idea, no matter how brilliant you think it is.
Why People Can’t (and Won’t) Steal Your Idea
While you don’t own the idea in the first place, it’s still worth taking into consideration the people who might be influenced by your suggestion. All writers are influenced by someone after all, what’s there to say that person won’t be you?
In that sense, you’re right. There’s always a chance that someone will like your idea and try to write their own version of it. But is that really as bad as you think?
Everyone has their own style of writing and their own unique creative process. If you’ve ever taken part in a collaboration or a group writing exercise you’ll have seen this for yourself. Give a group of writers the same story pitch and tell them to get writing, they’ll all start the story in very different ways with their own style. It doesn’t really matter if someone draws influence from your idea because their story will still turn out completely unique from yours!
Realistically though, that’s not going to happen anyway. You’re only going to get plagiarized if someone tries to pass off your completed work as their own. Nobody is going to plagiarize your idea and put in the time and effort to write it as their own, that’s not what plagiarists do.
If someone is willing to put in that amount of energy into writing a story from scratch by themselves, that’s a writer. Despite what you might think watching the success of J.R.R Tolkien and George R.R Martin, this isn’t the typical industry for people seeking easy fame and money. There’s easier things to plagiarize than a book for quick cash.
Most writers aren’t here for the fame and money. I’m sure a lot of them want it but that’s not why they chose writing as a career path. They’re writing because they have a passion for it, which means they probably have plenty of their own ideas to write about without trying to use yours. What? Did you think you were the only one with a good idea in their head?
Stop worrying so much people! If you’re so confident in your idea then get on with turning it into a story so you can show the world just how awesome it really is!
If you’re having difficulty with that then share it with like-minded people. There’s a ton of communities for aspiring writers just like you who are all going through the same struggles. Let them read and critique what you write and with a bit of luck it’ll turn out better than you imagined.
You can worry all you like about someone stealing your idea but you’re not the only one who thinks their idea is unique. How awesome you think it is is completely irrelevant to the rest of us. Right now it’s just an idea. There’s no story until you make one.
I have no doubt that each and every one of you is capable of turning your ideas into something magnificent but make sure you have your priorities in check and just get on with writing it.
It’s about time you turned that idea into something people would want to steal.