“Hey, That’s My Idea!”: When Works of Fiction are so Similar You Want to Sue

This morning an interesting story showed up on my Facebook feed: Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, was hit by a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement. In the lawsuit, an author by the name of Peter Gallagher (not the actor) alleges that Joss Whedon and the film company Lionsgate, among others, stole the idea for the 2012 movie Cabin in the Woods from his own self-published novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines, which he first put out in 2006. Apparently both the book and the movie have similar premises (spoiler alert!): a bunch of teens go hang out for the weekend in an old cabin, they’re attacked by monsters, and they find out they’re subjects in a horror-film scenario run by a strange organization or group. Gallagher also says that several of the characters in both works have similar names and personalities. No word yet on what the defendants in the case say or whether the lawsuit will actually go through or be thrown out of court (for the full story, click here).

Strangely enough, something similar happened to me last year. I was on Facebook and I saw on my news feed that a movie company that produces really interesting horror movies was getting ready to release a new film and had just uploaded its first trailer online. When I read the synopsis of the movie and saw the trailer, I was instantly reminded of a short story I wrote back in June 2013, one with an eerily similar premise and which I plan to expand into a novel when I get a chance. I will admit, the thought to sue did cross my mind.

But I didn’t. This was partly because I’d never published the short story. I’d sent it to a friend who recommended I expand it and I did speak of it one or two times on my blog, but beyond that it’s been languishing on the shelf until I feel it’s time to start expanding it. It’s a little too much to suppose that they somehow found a single post on my blog back in 2013 or maybe even hacked my flash drive and used that material to create their movie. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory or something.

Not only that, but I felt that what I was going for with my story set it apart enough from the movie in question that I didn’t need a lawsuit. And finally, I’m just finishing up my undergraduate degree. I have no time and none of the expenses for such a lawsuit, even if I was inclined for one.

But just because I didn’t feel that copyright infringement had happened here doesn’t mean it never happens. There are quite a few cases where judges have found that movie producers or book writers or TV showrunners have owed someone money over a possible infringement. Some ways to prevent yourself from being caught in either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side include, of course, to seek out every copyright protection you can get. For example, with every book I publish I make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office first. I know, technically publication or sending it to myself in the mail is considered copyright enough, but it helps to have federal protection.

Another thing to do is, if you suspect that someone’s infringed on your copyright, that you do as much research as possible. See if you actually have something to worry about. Also remember that there are plenty of stories that have similarities (like Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down have similarities, for example), so keep that in mind while you research. It could turn out your work and the work you’re researching only has a few similarities, and the ones there are just the kind anyone could come up with.

But if there’s enough resemblance that you can’t pass it off as just a few coincidences, then perhaps you might want to see if a few more people see the resemblances. If they see them too, then maybe you should consider consulting a lawyer.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I’ve never had to worry about this. If anyone has experience with this subject, please let us know your story and tell us what happened. We’d love your feedback.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on this Whedon-Gallagher story and see how it turns out. Because this could be our story. Anyone of us could go through this, as any one of us could have a copyright infringement lodged against our own properties simply to con us or someone could steal our works and sell them for their own profit. And we need to watch so we know how to fight it and keep it from happening to us.

Categories: Copyright, General Writing, Publishing Basics, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Some Tips For WattPad Users

I’ve been using WattPad for the past couple of weeks, and I thought that an article about it would be fun to write. Also, I found out this blog doesn’t have an article on WattPad yet, so I thought I’d break the ground and do a piece on it.

Throughout this article, I will try to give some sound advice on using WattPad and possibly getting some success through it. If any WattPad users have any additional tips they would like to…well, add in, please let us know. I’ll do a follow-up article with your words of wisdom.

So, first things first: What is WattPad? WattPad is a website where writers can upload and share stories with the public. It’s been in operation since 2006 and it’s been nicknamed the YouTube of storytelling. Writers can upload stories, gain feedback, create covers, and enter contests with their short stories or novels.

What sort of work is published on WattPad? Just about anything is published on WattPad. Novels, novellas, short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, of all types and genres. Science fiction, fantasy, and YA stories tend to be the most popular, with horror and romance in a close second. There’s also a sizable amount of erotic fiction on the site, though I haven’t personally browsed that in any great detail. And technically erotica isn’t allowed on the website, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is it possible to get success through WattPad? Depends on what you mean by success. It is possible to spread your work to other writers and readers, maybe get feedback, and learn something from other writers by both reading and being read. And it is also possible to get the success that every author only dreams about (there’s an example of that in a recent issue of TIME magazine), but like anything in fiction, that is very hard to achieve and what can cause it is very difficult to predict.

How do you spread your work through WattPad? Tags and categorizing your work is very important, because it allows people with similar interests to search out and find your stories (and on that note, make sure to also rate your short stories appropriately. At the very least, an R-rating might deter some nine-year-old from reading a wildly inappropriate story). Also, networking with other authors, commenting on their stories, and even recommending works to authors you make friends with can be very helpful.

What are some ways to keep your readers interested in your work? Besides having interesting work, there are a couple of ways. One is to post frequently new stories or updates. Another is to post a novel on the site, but to do it in serial form. Posting new chapters on a regular basis keeps our readership up and it keeps them wanting to know more (especially if you end every chapter on a cliffhanger).

Should one copyright their work before posting? Well, that depends. Copyrights cost money and take time to process, so if you don’t mind waiting and shelling out money for the fees, then by all means get copyrights. At the very least, you should get copyrights for novels or for works you plan to sell in the future, and do it before you post it on WattPad.

I should also mention that WattPad allows users to post whether a story is copyrighted or not, so take advantage of that when you post a story. It could be seriously helpful.

If you publish a story on WattPad, can you put it on your resume as a publication? Again, that depends. This is a website where anyone can upload a story, so whether or not you want to include uploading stories onto an author’s YouTube on your resume is up to you. Some authors are comfortable, some aren’t. I know a few of both. If you are comfortable with it though, then only do it for stories that you’ve never published before in any way, shape, or form. And if you’re shopping for a publisher, definitely don’t do it!

What are these contests through WattPad you mentioned earlier? Wattpad holds a number of contests throughout the year. Most are small, but there are some big ones, including the Wattys, which are held once a year, and the Attys, which are for poetry and were started by author Margaret Atwood (yeah, she’s on the site. How cool is that?). The contests are open to all users with a WattPad account and who follow the rules of those contests.

If you are a regular WattPad user and have any other tips you’d like to mention, then please let us know. If I get enough tips, I’ll do a follow-up article on the subject with your tips in it.

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Blogs & Websites, Book Promotion, Copyright, Digital & ePublishing, Marketing & Promoting, Publishing Trends, Self-Publishing, Short Stories, Social Networking, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We Are All Vulnerable to Plagiarism

I found this post via an email from a friend.  Someone had taken Lorelei James’ ALL JACKED UP from the Rough Riders series and posted it up chapter by chapter on a website, claiming it was her own.  The only thing changed was the hero and heroine’s names.  Everything else was the same.  After going through the comments, the efforts of people who supported Lorelei have had awesome results, but I can only imagine how terrible this ordeal has been (and maybe even will continue to be) for Lorelei.  The thing is, this was not a self-published book.  It was published with Samhain, and Samhain is a reputable publisher.

A month ago, I heard of a romance author (who I was not given to mention so I won’t) who had the same thing happen to her.  Someone stole one of her books, changed the name of the hero and heroine, and put it up as if it was his/her own work.  This author has a background with Harlequin, but it could have been one of her self-published titles.  I don’t know the details, and I don’t know if it’s been resolved.

What Does This Mean?

What we’re dealing with is an ongoing problem.  I don’t think this is something that’s going to go away.  And people with small presses aren’t immune to it.  That alarmed me since I’m used to being vulnerable as a self-published author.  I thought people with small presses were protected from this kind of thing, but now I know this isn’t the case.  It’s important we don’t think of each other in terms of how we publish.  We should think of each other in terms of being writers.

While I don’t think we should all be panicking (because panicking tends to freeze us up so we can’t act), we should be conscious that this is a possibility.  Half the battle is in the mind.  If we know something is possible and can happen to us, then we’re better able to mentally prepare ourselves in the event that it does.

Here’s my advice:

Register our copyright.

It won’t prevent someone from plagiarizing our books, but it’ll be an awesome tool that a good copyright lawyer can use.  It might not come to a lawyer or a lawsuit, but there’s no harm in having that piece of paper in your possession.  $35 is all it is in the United States for electronic submission.  That is doable.  I don’t know what needs to be done in other countries.  While you do legally own the copyright to your work, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get  a copyright lawyer to back you up with the registration.  (I learned that one firsthand back in 2011.)

Have google alerts.

Go to this site and set up what you need (book titles, your name, passages from your book, etc) and you’ll receive emails letting you know when that stuff comes up.  This will help you keep abreast of what’s going on.

Form friendships with authors you can trust.

It’s important to have a close network of authors you can rely on for support, advice, and information.  There is a better chance of being able to figure out the right way to proceed with anything if you have trusted people around you.  While your spouse and other friends might sympathize with you, only other writers will understand how painful plagiarism is and look for ways to help you in case it happens to you.  I tried to explain to my husband how I felt violated when my books were stolen but he didn’t get it like my writer friends did.  There is a closeness writer share that is unique.

Be willing to get legal help if you need it.

Save aside some money now so if you need to pay a copyright lawyer, you can get one.  Yeah, I know we’re not all rich.  Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, writers aren’t sipping coffee in their cabins while write their stories in wonderful silence (the family magically leaves them alone LOL), the truth is we aren’t sitting around with bucket loads of money.  I get it.  I really do, but some things are worth saving for and your stories is one of them.  There are only two things that will get my claws out in major fight mode: a threat to my children and a threat to my stories.  Those are two things I’ll spend money on to keep them safe and well.  A story isn’t “just a story”; it’s who we are.

Allow yourself the wide range of emotions you’ll experience if plagiarism ever happens to you.

It’s an incredibly painful experience.  This is normal.  A story is from our core being.  When someone steals your work, they are hitting below the belt.  It’s not just something you can get over.  You’ll go through a lot of emotions, and it’s okay to go through them.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s no big deal or that you’re wrong for feeling the way you do.  Also, be prepared for it to take time to get back to writing. I don’t imagine many authors can just jump right in and write their next book when something like this happens.  Be good to yourself, allow for a lot of rest, and cut yourself some slack.  Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than other people.

Anyone have any other suggestions on how to cope if your work is ever plagiarized or stolen?


Categories: Copyright, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Writer & Author

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