View Full Version : Rights question

11-08-2012, 10:31 AM
I'm not sure how else to title this other then as a "rights question"

One of my writing goals this year is to write one 10-minute play a month. This is an exercise for me firstly as a playwright and secondly, I've had a few teachers express interest in buying these from me for the forensics (competitive speech and drama) students and tournaments. Kansas (my state) Actives Association would recognize it as published IF I published these works on the internet, either through my website or something like Smashwords or KDP (I've got a few up already on SW, just to test the market) but there must be some kind of receipt of purchase and/or an active website.

So here comes my question.

One idea I've been kicking around this month is based on something Harlan Ellison SAID (not wrote). This is what he said:

When some jamook asks me this one (thereby revealing him/herself to be a person who has about as much imaginative muscle as a head of lettuce), I always smile prettily and answer, "Schenectady."

And when the jamook looks at me quizzically, and scratches head with hairy hand, I add: "Oh, sure. There's a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send 'em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas."

funny quote, and I think a person could run with it as a writer, but do I have the RIGHT I guess to use this idea as a 10-minute play? If it was just a creative exercise, I'd do it in a heartbeat but I view all my writing (especially my drama pieces) as something I'd like to see move beyond just my page.

Anyone who knows Harlan, knows he's a bit of a...curmudgeon and isn't above suing or threatening lawsuits. So again, do I have the right to do this?

11-08-2012, 12:08 PM
Dave Barry has also done this gag. Once someone asked him where he gets his ideas. His answer,"Wisconsin."

The idea of an idea service that writers use is not unique to Harlan. Lots of fed up writers have given variants of his answer to clueless questioners. There's also the old joke about the (insert magical creature that does the writing while the writer sleeps a la the Shoemaker and the Elves).

That begs the question not of rights but of originality. Will your playlet do something interesting with the concept?

11-08-2012, 01:20 PM
I hadn't heard the Dave Berry one, but glad to hear it's not wholly original to Harlan LOL I love Harlan and didn't want to piss him off.

my idea would be a harried 'idea man' dealing with working in an office that deals in ideas. I had a request to do something humorous (my last two have been quite serious) and I thought this could really be played up for laughs, describing the different ideas that come through the office. I was thinking something to the effect of "one of the strangest things I ever saw was a 12 ft monster with an octopus for a mouth who insisted I call him an 'Old One'. I sent him to a New York writer named Lovecraft"

Original? Not so much but I think it can be played for laughs.

EDIT: Thanks for the help btw. Meant to say that and I didn't

11-08-2012, 02:44 PM
The idea man could work out as funny. It's a variant of a kind of joke that Bob Newhart liked to do. He would do behind the scenes bits usually him on a telephone talking to some famous person. He did one as someone in Britain talking to Sir Walter Raleigh about stuff found in America. One of his most famous was Abraham Lincoln's publicist helping him with his image.

11-08-2012, 08:29 PM
Thanks I had forgotten about that Newhat bit, thanks

11-08-2012, 08:34 PM
Ruth Park, in Australia, a long, long time ago - if I was at home, with my books around me, I'd look it up for you: from memory she said she got them from a little place around the corner called The Ideas Factory.

I think it's a lovely idea. It certainly never gets old... (though it's been around for ages. I'm just waiting for Medi to dance in and give a quote from Beowulf or something...)

11-08-2012, 08:37 PM
Thank you so much, I had only ever heard this in conjunction with Ellison, so I'm glad I don't run the risk of pissing Harlan off