Copyrighting in a world of unoriginality

The world it seems is teeming with unoriginal flatterers, more widely known as copycats. They run rampant on Youtube, putting their “unique” twist on a classic song or popular vlog. Now, I’m not saying you can’t make a tribute to someone or use them as an inspiration, and not be original at the same time. That is highly possible as most people become great artists from studying other great artists that came before them. However, there is a difference between high jacking an idea with parasitic motives, and using someone as inspiration. This post is about the former situation.

Now as I was saying, copycats are rampant in the world today. And with the ease of the internet, it’s easier than ever for someone to steal your idea and present it as their own. Which is where the importance of copyrighting comes into play. At the onset of putting your thoughts to paper, your ideas are technically already under the protection of copyright if you live within Canada or the United States. But if you find yourself in a situation where you have to go to court to claim damages, having a paid copyright that is registered can be a godsend.

I mean, imagine this. You just finished a paper that you have worked months, or maybe even years on. Proudly, you post it somewhere on the internet for all your faithful followers, friends, and family to see in your moment of glory. Now let’s say a year or so passes and you are walking in the local bookstore. Walking by a shelf, you see a book with a familiar title. On the back cover are numerous accolades for the author’s work. It may be someone you know or a stranger, but the content of the book is yours. All your hard work is staring you in the face with someone else’s name in the credits.

Now, if you copyrighted your material, the process may be a little more easy for you as you decide to lawyer up and sue the person for damages. However, with no registered copyright, your lawyer may give you a dismal nod and inform you that the burden of proof will be placed squarely on your shoulders. You’ll need evidence that they copied you and didn’t just write everything up themselves by coincidence. Yes, that can be the difference between a registered copyright and a non-registered one.

Now most people will read this and say “Eh, well my novel in progress won’t be a huge success.” Which if you don’t think it even has the possibility to be popular, then you should probably scrap your work in my opinion.  Or they will say “Nope, won’t happen to me.” The only problem is, things can and do happen. The author of the Darkover series, Marion Zimmer Bradley, even fell prey to the ole’ copyright trap. Taken from George R.R Martin’s blog is the following excerpt:

  MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it… even read and critiqued the stories of her fans.  All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress.  MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book.  The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue.  MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit.  She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.

That was twenty years ago or thereabouts, but that episode had a profound effect on me and, I suspect, on many other SF and fantasy writers of my generation.

Yes an author of fanfiction was going to sue the original creator of the series they had based their story on. Why? Because the storylines they both had in mind were extremely similar. Since the fanfic author had already written her version of events, it was already copyrighted; while the author of the series’ ideas weren’t. It really is a messed up world out there. So save yourself some time and hassle, and get the copyright.



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