A comment made in my Stout of Heart post got me thinking about copyright and all that it entails. Now, I know I've mentioned I have a law degree... I do. That said, I'm not about to spout out legal terms to y'all. One, because it's early and I'm not sure I would even be able to remember the correct terms at this hour. Two, because the technical legality of copyright isn't really what I want to talk about this morning. I'd be more than happy to do a rundown of copyright--and how it applies to books--at a later date, if anyone's interested. Perhaps Rachel and I can put our heads together on that one. Didn't know we had TWO legal minds here at ATWOP, did ya? Well, we do. And I'm sure I'm not the smarter of the two. (g)
What I want to talk about is the sort of freeze that comes over you as a writer when you THINK you may have lifted a line from someone else's work. Let's face it, it's probably happened to all of us at one time or another. I know I've certainly had my fair share of "oh shit!" moments when I've reread something and it sounds very, very familiar. Like maybe from the last book I read, familiar. CRAP.
Okay, you want my complete honesty? It's gonna happen. There's no way you can avoid it. So get over it now. We are ALL "thiefs" on some level.
However, this DOES NOT mean: 1. That you're a crap writer without original thoughts/ideas of your own. 2. That you shouldn't TRY to avoid it when possible. 3. That you're ever going to be sued for your big-fat-thief-tendencies.
The truth is, it's almost impossible NOT to steal something from time to time. Phrases, dialogue, description...even that oh so clever line that seemed to take YOU days to come up with...has PROBABLY been done before. In some way. I know we all want to believe that everything we write is original, and our manuscripts are The First Time A Story Has EVER Been Told This Way. And perhaps it is. But the reality is that there's going to be a lot of cross-over from the things we read, see on TV, etc. etc. So stop worrying about it, K? Unless you're deliberately copying someone else's work, chances are you aren't going to ever have a copyright case brought against you.
But as with all things, there is the "legal" side of things, and the "tacky" side of things. Tacky in that there are certain things you Just Shouldn't Do as a writer. I speak from the experience of being tacked upon.
Now, I'm what's known around these here parts as a .... *crit whore* Heh. Yes, I love me some feedback. In fact, when I first started out, I would send my book out to _everyone and anyone_ who asked. I'd "meet" random strangers on a writers forum and immediately send my book out for them to peruse. It was actually quite ridiculous how needy I was. *cough*AM*cough* I've curbed the habit a great deal over the last couple of years...mainly because of a couple of experiences I had with another writer.
No names, no specifics...and I want to say upfront right now that I'm not accusing anyone of deliberately copying me. (Just one legal fact -- you can't copyright an IDEA. If you wanted to go out right now and tell the story of a nun named Maria and how she took charge of seven kids for a retired sea captain in Austria, by God, you could do it. Can't copyright an idea, got it? BUT, you can copyright the WAY in which you tell a story. Okay, that's the closest I'm coming to legal jargon today, promise. And really, that wasn't so bad, right?) What I will say, however, is that I shared a great deal of my work with another writer early on in my career, and scenes told in a very similar vein starting cropping up in said writer's work. I was green at the time, and my crit whore tendencies were doing way too much of my thinking... *shrug* That said, it happened so often that if this writer didn't realize the proverbial "thief" bug was biting him/her in the ass, then someone probably needed to be hit with a big ass clue cannon. Just sayin'. But in the end, even I have to admit that a copyright infringement this did not make.
This writer told the scenes with her own voice...set in her own story with her own characters, with enough originality that most probably wouldn't have recognized them as "mine." That said, when I showed said scenes to other writer friends, they immediately said...But, But...Jen...you wrote that! Gah, it sucked.
Do Not Do This To Your Friends.
Inevitably some cross-over will happen, but be aware of what you're reading, and then in turn, writing. Lifting ideas from your friends may not necessarily be illegal, but damn, it's TACKY. (g)
And yes...other things have happened. Titles that I love dearly have been "lifted" (says she who is totally camping on Jennifer Cruisie's backstep). Titles that MEAN something to me...titles that took me a long time to come up with for their underlying meaning and significance to the story. BAH! :)
It sucks to be on the receiving end of such an act. Avoid doing it to another when you can. Capiche?
Comments? Questions? Is anyone interested in a rundown of Copyright at some point? (I.e. AFTER I find my copyright notes and can state them in a way that won't make my copyright prof's head spontaneously combust?)