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Thread: Protecting Yourself and Your WIP

  1. #26
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin SnowFlower's Avatar
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    I know the last post in this thread is a month old, but I have a question that I would like some thoughts on...

    What do you do when your own story is very similar to the work of the author you are beta-reading for?

    How can you avoid having that person accuse you of stealing or copying if you decide to show your own story around the same time or after you beta read for another author? I've had this happen. I don't know what to do about it. I can't change my story just because so-and-so wrote something in a similar genre with a couple of similar plot devices, settings and themes.

    I do a lot of beta reading and brainstorming with friends. They know I won't copy, steal, or borrow from them. I very willingly read and critique other people's work when they ask, and I was thinking of trying a bit of beta work here on Absolute Write, but I honestly don't know how to protect my own integrity should the uncanny coincidence happen. The only thing I can think of is to tell the person immediately that I have a story that's very similar, that I can use examples from my own work to illustrate my points, or something like that.

    But really, will that work?

  2. #27
    Revisions, revisions, revisions SilverPhoenix's Avatar
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    Well, two people can have the same idea and write completely different stories.

    In the end, your work is your own. You've got just as much right to protect it as they have theirs. We tend to write what we like to read, so yeah beta'ing something similiar to your own work is not uncommon. People here are pretty nice and I doubt anyone would be quick to accuse you of anything. If you're really worried, you could propose a novel swap instead.

  3. #28
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin SnowFlower's Avatar
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    That sounds reasonable. Maybe I've just been hanging around quick-tempered kids too long, haha. It gets tiresome trying to be active in a group that's always acting paranoid. For some of those types, all they need is a shred of a reason to start pointing fingers...

  4. #29
    Five by Five SuperModerator katiemac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SnowFlower View Post
    I know the last post in this thread is a month old, but I have a question that I would like some thoughts on...

    What do you do when your own story is very similar to the work of the author you are beta-reading for?

    How can you avoid having that person accuse you of stealing or copying if you decide to show your own story around the same time or after you beta read for another author? I've had this happen. I don't know what to do about it. I can't change my story just because so-and-so wrote something in a similar genre with a couple of similar plot devices, settings and themes.

    I do a lot of beta reading and brainstorming with friends. They know I won't copy, steal, or borrow from them. I very willingly read and critique other people's work when they ask, and I was thinking of trying a bit of beta work here on Absolute Write, but I honestly don't know how to protect my own integrity should the uncanny coincidence happen. The only thing I can think of is to tell the person immediately that I have a story that's very similar, that I can use examples from my own work to illustrate my points, or something like that.

    But really, will that work?
    Honestly, if I ran into a beta situation where the story was that similar to my own, I would stop critiquing that person's work, but not because I'd be worried about being accused of plagiarism. Of course I'd also give the them a full explanation as to why I'd stopped reading. (As an aside, I'd also give my own story a good hard look and ask myself if it's truly coincidence or if I'm writing something too generic.) You don't even have to bring up the actual topic of plagiarism, just say you don't think it's a good idea for you to be reading something so similar while you're working on your own project.

    Additionally, however, you should be able to protect yourself if you keep record of your work and your drafts. If someone confronts you, you'll have that data as backup. ("Yeah, it's a coincidence, but this early draft of mine dated six years ago ....") Additionally, if you want to keep critiquing for that person, I'd still be very open with him or her, and explain you've got a similar story. Perhaps you can scale back the edits - say you'll only be able to contribute grammatical edits, or only offer subplot suggestions.

    Communication is always the key. But if you really are worried about it, then stop critiquing the work. Period.
    Last edited by katiemac; 07-24-2009 at 01:37 AM.

  5. #30
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin SnowFlower's Avatar
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    Also good advice... Thank you. The situation I ran into happened because both I and the other author were interested in the same genre niche and were trying to convert old stories into something new. Let's say it was...post-apocalyptic with a cyber-punk flair. Some of the same plot elements popped up and I didn't know how to tell the person that my ideas were pretty similar to his. (In my eyes, it seemed to be things that most writers of that genre tend to include, so maybe I'm thinking of tropes instead?) In the end, I worked more on my story so that it would be more easily distinguishable from his, and then I stopped reading his story. I think it will work out just fine, but it was downright odd that I ran into such a thing anyway! (Then again, I had known the guy for awhile...)

  6. #31
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    Please excuse me for being a newb posting in this thread, but I read the whole thing about "What do you do when your own story is very similar to the work of the author you are beta-reading for?" and an idea occurred to me that I did not see mentioned here. If my response isn't relevant then please forgive me!

    Before sending your story to a beta reader, wouldn't one first submit a note saying what genre they're writing and a synopsis as well? I would assume that my first contact with a beta reader would entail this, and the beta reader would presumably see from the genre/synopsis information that the story is probably similar to their own. This could save a lot of time you'd waste sending your story over and having them start reading it only to confirm their suspicions.

    Would this be a solution to this issue?

  7. #32
    Five by Five SuperModerator katiemac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MondayNightFrungy View Post
    Please excuse me for being a newb posting in this thread, but I read the whole thing about "What do you do when your own story is very similar to the work of the author you are beta-reading for?" and an idea occurred to me that I did not see mentioned here. If my response isn't relevant then please forgive me!

    Before sending your story to a beta reader, wouldn't one first submit a note saying what genre they're writing and a synopsis as well? I would assume that my first contact with a beta reader would entail this, and the beta reader would presumably see from the genre/synopsis information that the story is probably similar to their own. This could save a lot of time you'd waste sending your story over and having them start reading it only to confirm their suspicions.

    Would this be a solution to this issue?
    It would be a solution, definitely. But that's not always how it works. Some writers, for example, might not have a synopsis prepared. Or some writers might want a beta to read "blind," not knowing much about the story. Still, I'm of the mind that the more information you know about each other ahead of time (writing-wise) will make the beta process work more smoothly.

  8. #33
    Quote Originally Posted by dragonmedley View Post
    What everyone else said.

    I'm paranoid about sending my stories, but someone has to read them!
    Me too. I've been contacted by two people through critters.org offering to beta read my entire story (on critters it's called Request for Dedicated Reader or RFDR). I'm a little concerned, but have already received crits on some chapters from them through critters.

    I would just leave it to one chapter at a time submissions, but the queue doesn't move my stories into position much faster than one chapter every 5 weeks. At that rate, it would take almost 2 years to get the story read from start to finish one time.

  9. #34
    PS,

    I may send the story to both betas on the same email so I not only have an email verifying I sent it, but a "witness." Out of respect for their privacy, I'd list them both as "BCC."

  10. #35
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    I think you are all being a little too concerned about this, something I don't think will happen much if at all to any of us.
    I do accept that it has happened but then you say that you are both revising old texts in a niche genre and if there are not too many texts and you are just revising them and not making new texts ruffly based on the old, you MUST come up with these coincidences, mustn't you?

    For me, if I was beta reading something and got to chapter two and saw it was exactly what I had in chapter 5, or in the outline say, I would stop reading, straight to email, tell them I am at chap2 page 20 and see you are writing exactly as i have or have outlined. I have stopped. Find attached my effort so you can see what I mean. Tell if you want me to keep reading or delete it. Your call 100%

    Something like that.
    Again, I would be absolutely amazed if anyone came even close to what I was writing, I mean even if they used a 2 or 3 word phrase that was the same or similar. So I think you may be in a unique situation and that you do know this person somewhat, I think you said, then surely "communication" is the answer.
    Making sure you say the words to them should clear the air. When I have a delicate issue with a "friend" then I just put the words out there and say I am not comfortable but we have to discuss this b4 it becomes the elephant in the room, so to speak.

    So the sooner the message them over the issue you have found the better. If you read to the end and then say chap 2, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 17, 19 & 20 are very close to things i wrote in my book, and this is 6 months after I first gave it to you, I would be automatically suspicious of you and actively suspect you wrote your book ONLY after reading mine and you did plagerise ever word, even if this wasn't the case.

    So I strongly recommend that communication as your prime tool. After being a kid for too long and having BS substitue for experience and reality, I learned that honesty was the gateway to friendship. Apart from almost overnight being able to spot BS, i found that the real people I wanted as friends waloked straight into the honesty and all things flowed from there. If they liked me, then they could say that and I could say I liked them and it wasn't awkward. I made excellent friends where ever I went and we could tell each other the truth asbout whatever we had in common.
    If I read your work and seems flat, lack lustre or is boring or generic, I will say so. If that upsets you, I am sorry, but if I hold it as a truth, then I won't BS you just to try to hold you as a friend, ultimately, no friendship can blossom if it is not based on honesty and truth.
    So communicate with your friend the writer and where you have a similar writing, get your copy to him asap, so he can make a value judgement just as you have to about your future relationship.
    My 2 cents.

  11. #36
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    I don't see how someone could steal my work.

    For one, by the time I'm ready for a Beta reader I've gone through like 50 drafts that I've saved. Next, close family and friends have been used as Beta's and the work has been emailed and those emails saved. Then I email my stuff to beta readers, so I keep records of that too.

    Finally, if you have all that and someone is stupid enough to try to pass your work off as their own and they manage to actually sell the work to a publisher. Wow, you can sue them, their family members, and especially their publisher, for all kinds of losses. That person who plagiarized your work risks not only suffering serious financial losses but will be blacklisted as an author and any hope of a publishing career will be forever lost. (BTW family members are often listed on lawsuits as a way make the suit more painful and ensure the guilty party doesn't try to run - they run, their family still goes to court and is dragged through the mud.)

    Now I admit that that might not be the case with magazine articles where it would be quick work to re-write the same article and pass it off as your own, but for novels??

  12. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sydewinder View Post
    (BTW family members are often listed on lawsuits as a way make the suit more painful and ensure the guilty party doesn't try to run - they run, their family still goes to court and is dragged through the mud.)
    Um-- I doubt it. What century are you talking about? The entire family listed on a law suit to prevent a person being sued from running off? Do they also have debtor's prisons in this land you speak of? Legally "pain" is not the end result of a law suit, either equity or monitary damages are.

  13. #38
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    Oh yes you can. I was at a trial where a man was being sued who had done a shifty business deal, much like a ponzy scheme. Anyway, they named his elderly mother in the lawsuit and served her with a summons. She was wheeled her into the court room in tears.

    I talked to the lawyer afterwards (I was there for a school thing) he told me that you can sue anyone for anything; you might not be successful if you can’t prove they had something to do with it, but you’ll get them into the court room. He told me that they went after the mother because the man’s wife was already overseas and they knew he was going to run. He also told me that some of his clients want friends and business associates named in law suits just to make it so everyone knows what the person has done.

  14. #39
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin mgarwood's Avatar
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    I have been reading all the posts and I haven't noticed where anyone has mentioned getting your novel copyrighted. Wouldn't that solve the problem? If you don't want to spend the money, then you can use the poor mans copyright by sealing and sending a copy to yourself and leaving it unopened.

  15. #40
    phoenix blazing Parametric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mgarwood View Post
    I have been reading all the posts and I haven't noticed where anyone has mentioned getting your novel copyrighted. Wouldn't that solve the problem? If you don't want to spend the money, then you can use the poor mans copyright by sealing and sending a copy to yourself and leaving it unopened.
    As the original post states, work is automatically copyright to the author as soon as you put it in a fixed form, eg writing or typing it. Poor man's copyright is not legal copyright. Try the copyright laws link in the first post of this thread.


  16. #41
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin mgarwood's Avatar
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    Unless you have proof of the date when it was put in a fixed form then I don't see how it would count any better than the poor man's copyright, especially since the poor man's copyright is in a fixed form. As for me, I copyrighted my story with the United States copyright office before it was ever put on the internet.

  17. #42
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mgarwood View Post
    Unless you have proof of the date when it was put in a fixed form then I don't see how it would count any better than the poor man's copyright, especially since the poor man's copyright is in a fixed form. As for me, I copyrighted my story with the United States copyright office before it was ever put on the internet.
    1. Poorman's copyright does not hold up in court. It is meaningless.

    2. You registered copyright; you already had copyright. All that registration does is potentially offer you higher punitive damages if you win a copyright case.

    3. Putting the story on the Internet means you have already used first publication rights, and digital rights, thus potentially adversely affecting the long-term earning ability of the work. I'd worry more about that than copyright.

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  18. #43
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    The "poor man's copyright" is another MYTH started by someone, possibly well meaning who was talking out of the wrong hole.
    I am non US, but that won't hold water in our legal system and I can't see it being usable in any modern legal system, it is so easily manipulated.
    Here's one: Why not post your self an empty, unseal envewlop from the central post office, then, at any later date, you can slot anything you like into the envelope, seal it and pretend it was there when the envelop was franked.
    Too many ways to scam that.

    The obvious answer is that if you are concerned about the integrity of your work, then copyright it at every substantial change. I don't know if they charge you in the US, what price do you want to put on your piece of mind? What "value" do you want to put on this piece of work?
    Purely subjective, maybe it goes wrong with 1 in 10,000, or 1 in a million, but I doubt they will steal rubbish, so if you have developed a blockbuster, something special, then stealing it and publishing it under another name to rip you off WOULD be the deviously smart way to go!

    The copyright system, in all countries, it would seem, is robust and if used properly by us, and not subject to penny pinching in anyway, then you have a viable legal position, ignore this, try a "scheme", or hazard the "poorman's copyright system" at your peril. Remember, it is only when something goes wrong that it counts and they are only likely to steal something "good!", evaluate your work carefully, see what you are prepared to invest in wisely, or risk haphazardly.

    20/20 hindsight is not something you want to be talking about with your efforts of 10 years at stake, right?
    Last edited by Herman Munster; 01-11-2010 at 12:58 PM.

  19. #44
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin mgarwood's Avatar
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    I only brought up the poor man's copyright because so many writers on this forum seemed concerned about their story being stolen, but nobody mentioned copyrighting it. I assumed, probably incorrectly that they were not wanting to spend a few dollars to protect it. My story is not on the internet, that was a mistake on my part. It has been sent by email, is what I should have said and as such could have been seen by people that it was not intended for. I hope this clarifies what I said. Sorry I caused any problems, I was just trying to help.

  20. #45
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    mgarwood you have done no harm as best I can see.
    The very first thing with a stolen story is that you find out that it has been stolen.
    Unless it turns into a best seller, AND YOU READ IT, or is made into a movie that you see, how do you know you have been copied?

    THEN, if you know or suspect it has been copied, you have to spend your cash to engage your attorney, in the appropriate country, and spend a lot of money to recover ??
    The work?
    Any profits they made from your work?
    Something else?

    I have seen a coupla stories where a work has been stolen and published but by the time they get to court, the perp has no assets to chase even if you "win" a judgment that tells you the law is on your side. People often refer to 6 figure legal bills to just get that far, again, in civil court, not the criminal court.
    You may get awarded 100 million dollars including pain and suffering but being a civil result, no one but you has to enforce that, and that is only if you can prove the perp has any assets. I am guessing you are with me that if I get into a 5 year legal battle, and I think I am going to lose, then I could divest myself of all assets and declare bankruptcy negating any advantage you might think you got.

    I came to the writers forums with that as my second question. I saw all these people saying "Share Your Work", post a chapter or two so we can read and critique it for you.
    YEAH, right!
    Clearly they just wanna see what good ideas I have so they can steal them and race me to publishers they already know about and I haven't got to agents yet.

    So I was very suspicious. I have learned a lot and even tho I have nothing published, and some GREAT stuff in the pipeline [ of course we all say that ], I know that it could be stolen at any moment, and possibly I never even know about it.
    Again, mgarwood, the points you make are very valid, i feel too many don't even check out what is involved with copyright b4 panicking about it!

  21. #46
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    There's an FAQ about copyright here.

    Ideas are not copyrightable.

    It is trivially easy to reduce any literary work to a list of motifs; what makes a work unique is the expression of those ideas.

    You have copyright the second you create an a fixed work--a recording, a piece of writing, an image.

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  22. #47
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    Yeah the idea of having work stolen or passed around on the net scares me, but I definitely do need help in my writing, especially the first crucial chapters. When I weigh the pros and cons, I think getting my foot through the door with a good partial is definitely more important than my fears.

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  23. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samantha's_Song View Post
    No, I didn't say that Katie was accusing anyone of theft. But people, who are new to passing their work around, could worry unnecessarily that this could happen to them. I know how I felt when I found out that my work was being passed around, it isn't nice, but it also wasn't on an actual writers site.

    I think everyone on here knows how much work goes into writing a novel and wouldn't ever consider using anyone else's ideas. I, personally, would hate the thought that someone could even think that I'd want to use their work for my own use, that's all.
    One thing to keep in mind is that while all the writers on this site are undoubtedly honorable, it's perfectly easy for some scammer to create a login and start stealing manuscripts. So there's that aspect of it to look out for.

  24. #49
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    Oh, please. That hoary old chestnut's getting passed around and won't go away.

    Don't you think if somebody wanted to have a book published it'd be easier for them to write their own? Think about it. They steal a manuscript from some website and begin submitting it. And...nothing happens. They've got an equal chance of having their own work rejected as they do having a manuscript they've stolen getting rejected.

    Scammers don't give a damn about stealing manuscripts. If anything, they're more interested in setting up flim-flams where the real money lies: bogus agencies, editing services, and publishers. Take a look at BR&BC some time in the Writers Literary Agency/AEG Publishing Group/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books forums. Yup. Robert Fletcher knows where the money is. He's suckered hundreds out of millions of dollars but not from ganking manuscripts off writing websites. His scams cover all three: fake agencies, editors, and publishers. One fake refers the mark to the second and third, taking a person for every cent he can wring out of them along the way.

    The worst you can expect from posting something on the SYW forums here? Your story doesn't get published.
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  25. #50
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    Is there some sort of non-disclosure agreement that a beta writer could sign to be safe?
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