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unkownwriter said:
Ideas are nothing until they're written. Ideas can't be copyrighted, the execution of them can be.

Worrying over someone "stealing" my ideas is about as high on the list as... well, it's on the bottom of the list.
All I said was ideas are important, and they are. Where you got all that other stuff...well, why respond to unimportant things.
 

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Becca Mills said:
I wonder if academic norms muddy this picture at all for people. In scholarship, ideas do belong to their originators. Even in situations where a person uses their own unique words to describe someone else's idea, the idea doesn't lose its original ownership. My students must cite the sources of the ideas they use, even if they're summarizing or paraphrasing those ideas, rather than quoting. Not doing so would be academically dishonest. Perhaps this is why theft of ideas (as well as words) is part of most standard definitions of "plagiarism," so far as I know. But lawsuits don't have to do with plagiarism. They have to do with copyright, and ideas can't be copyrighted. So outside institutions that have systems to punish it (such as academia), plagiarism of ideas becomes a legally unenforceable moral wrong, I guess?
But what is 'an idea'? Are vampires an idea? Is 'what would happen if vampires came upon a town in Alaska during polar night?' an idea? How specific does an idea have to be for it to be 'an idea'?
 

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Brian D. Anderson said:
I no more care about her opinion than I do a random person I might meet.
You want to know why this forum cleared out? This. The constant need to defend everything you say from people to whom you were not directing your comments. The group of 50 writers I mentioned was founded by the "original exodus". Now I'm remembering why we did it. It was a bad idea for me to post here again.
 

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ShayneRutherford said:
But what is 'an idea'? Are vampires an idea? Is 'what would happen if vampires came upon a town in Alaska during polar night?' an idea? How specific does an idea have to be for it to be 'an idea'?
Yeah, totally. I'm *guessing* that's why copyright steers clear of the whole issue: how on earth do you separate an individually owned idea from a culturally owned idea (a trope)? I think it's easier to separate ideas from tropes in academia, where an idea or dataset has to be original to count for anything.
 

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Becca Mills said:
I wonder if academic norms muddy this picture at all for people. In scholarship, ideas do belong to their originators. Even in situations where a person uses their own unique words to describe someone else's idea, the idea doesn't lose its original ownership. My students must cite the sources of the ideas they use, even if they're summarizing or paraphrasing those ideas, rather than quoting. Not doing so would be academically dishonest. Perhaps this is why theft of ideas (as well as words) is part of most standard definitions of "plagiarism," so far as I know. But lawsuits don't have to do with plagiarism. They have to do with copyright, and ideas can't be copyrighted. So outside institutions that have systems to punish it (such as academia), plagiarism of ideas becomes a legally unenforceable moral wrong, I guess?
That's an interesting take, and it's a subject that I think everyone needs to consider.

I know it's one that I think about a lot because my own work does come from a clear inspiration so I try very hard to differentiate it enough to make it unique. On the one hand I have a character with a similar name in a similar role to an existing character--one that has been homaged many times in a number of different forms--on the other, my character has a totally different origin, physical characteristics, and personality from his more famous fictional counterpart and inspiration.

My current novel is based on putting those characters in a situation I came up with after binge-watching Ancient Aliens one weekend.

I can guarantee that I've never heard of anyone putting everything in this book together in quite the same way as I am, but at the same time my inspirations are pretty obvious.
 

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Jeff Hughes said:
There are only a handful of plots, the very same ones that followed us out of the mists of time. And those few stories seem sufficient to speak to the yearning in each of us for story, for validation, for proof.

Every story you read, every song you hear, every movie you watch... they're all just variations on that same, small handful. You can't steal a story idea. We're all born with all of them already inside us.
What are the handful of story plots?
 

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Ideas cant be stolen, it's all in the execution of the idea that determines if anyone is at fault.

Two people can have an idea for a time travel thriller where the main character is a woman

There have been tons of variations of the same idea.

Its all in the execution.

Being paranoid about your ideas being stolen is a clear give away of being an amateur in Hollywood.

Ideas are a dime a dozen.
 

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How do you know that your idea is really yours? Perhaps you picked it up telepathically? I'm not saying that is the case, but we shouldn't put down that suspicion either. Lots of synchronous thoughts and actions and discoveries happen because we are connected by something known as the collective unconscious mind. Cut and paste, which is plagiarism, is however wrong.
 

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D. A. J. F. said:
All I said was ideas are important, and they are. Where you got all that other stuff...well, why respond to unimportant things.
Well, of course ideas are important. Without ideas, we have nothing to write. But worrying over people stealing them -- which, if you noticed, is the topic of the OP -- is something that wastes time and effort.
 

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Becca Mills said:
I wonder if academic norms muddy this picture at all for people. In scholarship, ideas do belong to their originators. Even in situations where a person uses their own unique words to describe someone else's idea, the idea doesn't lose its original ownership. My students must cite the sources of the ideas they use, even if they're summarizing or paraphrasing those ideas, rather than quoting. Not doing so would be academically dishonest. Perhaps this is why theft of ideas (as well as words) is part of most standard definitions of "plagiarism," so far as I know. But lawsuits don't have to do with plagiarism. They have to do with copyright, and ideas can't be copyrighted. So outside institutions that have systems to punish it (such as academia), plagiarism of ideas becomes a legally unenforceable moral wrong, I guess?
I think it's different for academic circles, possibly even for nonfiction writers. The idea is often more focused, with research that supports it. With that amount of specific detail, someone else coming up with it might very well be theft. But in fiction, ideas are often nebulous, or bits and pieces of things we've read, seen, played in a game. More of a general spark than something that an academic career hinges on.
 

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Becca Mills said:
I wonder if academic norms muddy this picture at all for people. In scholarship, ideas do belong to their originators. Even in situations where a person uses their own unique words to describe someone else's idea, the idea doesn't lose its original ownership. My students must cite the sources of the ideas they use, even if they're summarizing or paraphrasing those ideas, rather than quoting. Not doing so would be academically dishonest. Perhaps this is why theft of ideas (as well as words) is part of most standard definitions of "plagiarism," so far as I know. But lawsuits don't have to do with plagiarism. They have to do with copyright, and ideas can't be copyrighted. So outside institutions that have systems to punish it (such as academia), plagiarism of ideas becomes a legally unenforceable moral wrong, I guess?
I published my thesis twenty(cough) years ago. It was a study on tracking the expansion and contraction of the Roman empire through the systematic production of beer. Basically an agricultural study. I did significant research (and still love beer), presented and defended it. Got my degree and moved on. Around a decade ago, I was contacted by the college and informed that they believed a student may have "plagiarized" a section of my work. I reviewed what they sent me, and in the end, I decided the student's work (Agricultural Expansionism in Eastern Europe) was sufficiently different and no plagiarism actually occurred. Academia takes this stuff seriously because careers have been made and lost on ideas. The open press, not so much. Shelly wasn't the first person to write about a monster created by man (look at the Golem for example). And the vampire existed in tales long before Dracula. It's the way they're written and presented that makes them unique. Even J.K. Rowling can't deny that books about magic schools and young wizards existed before she wrote her series. One of the things I do when bored and in front of a computer is to wander over to Writer's Digest. They have a daily writing prompt and I love to see how many different shorts are posted about it. Some are bland and others are a blast, but they all use the same idea as a starting point.
 

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unkownwriter said:
I think it's different for academic circles, possibly even for nonfiction writers. The idea is often more focused, with research that supports it. With that amount of specific detail, someone else coming up with it might very well be theft. But in fiction, ideas are often nebulous, or bits and pieces of things we've read, seen, played in a game. More of a general spark than something that an academic career hinges on.
Yeah, I think that's right. And there are ideas in scholarship that are basically the equivalent of tropes. I mean, you can locate and credit the person responsible for a recent specific idea being used in literary scholarship, such as the lesbian continuum (Adrienne Rich), but what about the more general idea that stories often have a subtext? The origins of the latter idea are lost in the mists of time, even though it's a pretty foundational concept for the whole field.

Rob Martin said:
I published my thesis twenty(cough) years ago. It was a study on tracking the expansion and contraction of the Roman empire through the systematic production of beer. Basically an agricultural study. I did significant research (and still love beer), presented and defended it. Got my degree and moved on. Around a decade ago, I was contacted by the college and informed that they believed a student may have "plagiarized" a section of my work. I reviewed what they sent me, and in the end, I decided the student's work (Agricultural Expansionism in Eastern Europe) was sufficiently different and no plagiarism actually occurred.
Interesting that they chose to let you decide whether or not you'd been plagiarized. I've never taught in a significant graduate program, so it's interesting to hear how such accusations are handled at that level. Also, your research sounds totally cool. :D

Rob Martin said:
Academia takes this stuff seriously because careers have been made and lost on ideas. The open press, not so much. Shelly wasn't the first person to write about a monster created by man (look at the Golem for example). And the vampire existed in tales long before Dracula. It's the way they're written and presented that makes them unique. Even J.K. Rowling can't deny that books about magic schools and young wizards existed before she wrote her series. One of the things I do when bored and in front of a computer is to wander over to Writer's Digest. They have a daily writing prompt and I love to see how many different shorts are posted about it. Some are bland and others are a blast, but they all use the same idea as a starting point.
Yeah, agreed. These sorts of ideas are totally fair game, and tropes can become very specific, IMO, and still be fair game. But I do think the academic approach to plagiarism exerts a formative pressure on how people tend to think of the word -- on their general assumptions about the term. Go to any dictionary, and you see it:

"the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own" (Google)
"to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source" (Merriam-Webster)
"an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author" (Dictionary.com)
"the process or practice of using another person's ideas or work and pretending that it is your own" (Cambridge)

My point is just that when newer authors have that "OMG my idea was stolen!" reaction, it's not coming entirely out of the blue. They've probably heard plagiarism talked about as the theft of words or ideas on many occasions, thanks to that academia-derived definition, so they feel their ideas should belong solely to them, just as their words do. They may not even realize how tropey their own ideas are. Tropes are sneaky that way. I mean, in urban fantasy, it might just feel right that your MC is a too-brave-for-her-own-good, not-classically-beautiful-but-somehow-very-attractive leatherclad woman in her 20s with a hard-luck past that's given her a deep-seated fear of commitment who hides her inner marshmallow with a heavy dose of snark and relies on her annoying but helpful supernatural pet while waving around her blade, which may have a name... but really the genre is working you like a marionette. And more power to it: I love those stories. Tropes become tropes because people like them. :)
 

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Becca Mills said:
Interesting that they chose to let you decide whether or not you'd been plagiarized. I've never taught in a significant graduate program, so it's interesting to hear how such accusations are handled at that level. Also, your research sounds totally cool. :D
I didn't get to make the final decision, just gave them my opinion - and the research was, and continues to be, awesome.

But I do think the academic approach to plagiarism exerts a formative pressure on how people tend to think of the word -- on their general assumptions about the term.
I agree. My entire academic life, I had their definition of plagarism beat into me (figuratively), just like every American school child. It wasn't until college that I realized (beyond conceptually) that there really hadn't been a new idea in thousands of years. Just old ideas recycled and put in new packaging. And a large part of that followed behind me after I entered the workforce.

in urban fantasy, it might just feel right that your MC is a too-brave-for-her-own-good, not-classically-beautiful-but-somehow-very-attractive leatherclad woman in her 20s with a hard-luck past that's given her a deep-seated fear of commitment who hides her inner marshmallow with a heavy dose of snark and relies on her annoying but helpful supernatural pet while waving around her blade, which may have a name
Hey, that was my idea, lol. I actually just finished the second in a UF trilogy with that tropey MC (minus the blade).
 

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Rob Martin said:
Hey, that was my idea, lol. I actually just finished the second in a UF trilogy with that tropey MC (minus the blade).
Lol, I've DNF many a UF because the heroine wasn't satisfyingly tropey. ;D
 

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Rob Martin said:
One of the things I do when bored and in front of a computer is to wander over to Writer's Digest. They have a daily writing prompt and I love to see how many different shorts are posted about it. Some are bland and others are a blast, but they all use the same idea as a starting point.
That'd be a cool idea for a thread here in the Writers Cafe, would it not? Have members here post a short story in the thread based on a random daily (every other day? weekly?) prompt as a means of exercising, improving craft, receiving encouraging feedback and/or friendly constructive criticism? Would it work here, or are peeps here too busy? Then again, a lot of members here write as many words as would fit into a short story in their replies to various threads each day, so it's not like they couldn't find the time. :p
 

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Becca Mills said:
plagiarism of ideas becomes a legally unenforceable moral wrong, I guess?
Even the potential moral wrong is highly debatable.

Heinlein more or less "invented" the idea of powered space armor, but I never heard of anyone being accused of plagiarism of this idea with all the books written about space marines in powered armor. Ditto for many other tropes. Is it wrong to say, "that's a great idea!" and put one's own spin on it? There's a highly popular SF author that basically recreated many of the ideas in Battlestar Galactica in a series of novels, and while the resemblance has been noted as cheesy and derivative, I don't think it rises to the level of a moral wrong.

And it's even more obvious that it happens all the time in the music world. Somebody comes up with something new, which spawns a horde of imitators. That's how styles and musical genres develop.

I'm struggling to even come up with an example where using an idea from another author, especially one single specific idea rather than some complex expression of ideas, would seem morally wrong to me (outside of actual legal plagiarism). I'd be interested in reading such an example here if anyone can come up with one, and I'm certainly willing to be proven wrong--but ATM i can't see it.
 

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Becca Mills said:
your MC is a too-brave-for-her-own-good, not-classically-beautiful-but-somehow-very-attractive leatherclad woman in her 20s with a hard-luck past that's given her a deep-seated fear of commitment who hides her inner marshmallow with a heavy dose of snark and relies on her annoying but helpful supernatural pet while waving around her blade, which may have a name...
:eek: I can't believe you stole my idea! My .. character. My own character. Stolen. I'm wordless.

But I digress.

I suppose there is also some difference between "what if this happened" vs "what if this happened, and that made this happen and that made this happen..and so on". If you saw the first idea and developed it, it would become your idea. If you took the template in the second quote and made a novel out of it, it would be closer to plagiarism, I'd think, even though it's still your treatment of their idea.

Six degrees of plagiarism?
 
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