Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Interesting advice that is not quite legal advice

Also from the Passive Voice Blog, this, in response to news about Disney being accused of plagiarizing “Pirates of the Caribbean:”

When PG worked for a large advertising agency during the Mad Men days, instructions to employees who received creative ideas in a letter or other writing from any person outside of the agency went something like this:

As soon as the employee realizes the content of a letter, document, etc., he/she will immediately stop reading and mark the place in the letter where they stopped.

The employee will immediately place the letter into an envelope and securely seal the envelope.

The employee will hand-deliver the envelope to the legal department, tell one of the lawyers what it contains and be available to answer questions in the event it is necessary to prepare an affidavit describing the entire sequence of events.

Then comes the advice to authors (though The Passive Guy specifies that this is not legal advice) (He is a lawyer and is sensitive on the topic of offering legal advice on blogs), which seems well worth reading, though I’m not sure I would follow it:

If a friend tells you about a story he/she is writing that sounds similar to a book you’re working on, tell your friend there are some similarities between the two plots so it’s clear you are already working on your story and you don’t have anything to hide. During this conversation, you don’t have to act like you’re talking to the secret police. You can be friendly.

Don’t add anything distinctive to your MS that your friend told you about unless it’s already in your MS.

You might send emails to a couple of your uninvolved friends or associates describing what has happened.

Save your MS as it existed on the date of your conversation with your author friend in at least a couple of different places.

Think twice about providing reading services, editing, advice, etc., on your friend’s book until after yours is published.

If your book is going to be traditionally published, send an email or letter to your editor at the publisher explaining the situation. Keep a copy for yourself. Your publisher may have a process it wants to use in handling these types of situations.

Under typical traditional publishing contracts, if there is a legal dispute about copyright ownership and the publisher is named in litigation, you’ll be obligated to pay the publisher’s legal expenses in addition to your own.

A little bit scary. I often don’t save early drafts as drafts, unless I’m making huge changes I’m not sure about. I do try to remember to save early drafts because every now and then failing to do so comes back to bite me. (Oh, damn, I DO after all want this scene from HER pov, not HIS. Now I have to change the whole thing back again. Why didn’t I save the earlier draft?)

But I don’t generally save early drafts in case of copyright disputes. Not that I recall having a conversation much like the above. Yet. But it’s pretty easy to imagine.

I guess for truly famous authors this kind of thing is more important. I’m sure Stephen King and Nora Roberts and people like that get accused of plagiarism as a get-rich-quick thing on a more frequent basis.

Anyway, food for thought, I guess. Especially if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

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3 Comments Interesting advice that is not quite legal advice

  1. Pete Mack

    I’ve read more than once that authors shouldn’t read fanfic for their own books. This is kind of a shame, since (good) fan fiction is very much the sincerest form of flattery.

  2. Kootch

    I remember reading a post in Sharon Lee’s (Korval novels) blog telling people to please not send them story ideas; they already have more than enough ideas for a gazillion books. Apparently they may have heard of people who sling off story ideas and then try to share the credit with the writer who did the actual creative work. Re: fanfic, one of the best I’ve read is Steven Brust’s Firefly story, free to all on Kindle.

  3. Rachel

    I’ve heard the authors-shouldn’t-read-fic thing, but I personally would be perfectly capable of reading fan fic privately. Who’s going to know?

    Kootch, thanks for the tip, I’ll look that story up!

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