About Copywriting Ideas and Titles…

October 30, 2012

…um, yeah…you can’t do that. Let’s say you think up a great idea about a race of inverted bellybuttons whose diabolical plan is to overtake the world, but you never get around to writing it. Then you happen to walk past a bookstore and see a book that SCADS! has your same title and a story about a race of inverted bellybuttons creating havoc on Earth. Guess what? You have no claim over that idea, or the title. None, whatsoever.

The discussion of copyrighting ideas and titles comes up from time to time whenever a flap arises that challenges the patience of those in possession of a brain, and the latest bruhaha is a doozey. It’s over a Scottish cat. The Tobermory Cat, to be more specific. If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about this incredible story of an artist who lays claim to what, clearly, doesn’t belong to him, but nonetheless has launched a vicious attack against the author and her publisher who produced a book about…you guessed it; The Tobermory Cat. The sordid details can be read in The Guardian article.

The gist is that an artist had been trying to make a go of his paintings and such of this cat. A publisher, who had spent many years visiting Tobermory on the Scottish Isle of Mull, discussed the idea of a children’s book about the small town’s famous little cat with a local bookstore, who encouraged the idea. He went so far as to suggest the publisher and the newly-signed-on author visit the local artist and see about including advertising his paintings at the back of their book. It would be a win win for all parties. Except the painter didn’t agree.

He insisted the publisher and author were infringing on his rights because he was convinced he had made the cat famous via his Facebook page – which he hadn’t – and he would have nothing to do with the publication. Ok, so end of story, right? Wrong. The painter then enlisted the help of all his FB supporters to launch a gynormous smear campaign upon the publisher and the author. The details are horrendous.

Here’s a fact:  For all this artist’s bloviating and simpering, he can’t prevent anyone from writing and publishing a story with a vaguely similar idea, nor can he prevent anyone from using the same title. All one need do is let their fingers do the walking in Amazon, and they’ll see plenty books that have the same title. Sure, it’s a pain in the rumpus, but it’s also perfectly legal. That’s why publishers usually check titles first so they can avoid title confusion.

So what is protected? You can copyright a character in a series. Just try writing a skanky missive involving Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and you’ll have Disney breathing down your collar so fast, your neck will melt because they are trademarked. However, if you write a famous character who happens to be a mouse at a famous make-believe tourist attraction, then you’re on safe ground because there is no copyright violation.

There are specific laws regarding copyright, and before you go off half-baked like this very confused artist, you need to be sure that the law is on your side. Regardless of your feelings as to who is the wronged party, we have laws for a reason, and it’s to protect the innocent from being harangued by the simple-minded and emotionally-charged. The toll on the publisher and author come through very clearly in the article, and even though they are on solid legal ground, I’m sure they wish the idea had never come up. Such is the way of bullies.

A very sad case, indeed, and my heart goes out to the publisher and author.

*For great legal advice for writers (also includes an excellent breakdown of copyright), I suggest picking up a copy of lawyer extraordinaire, Donna Ballman’s book, Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers.


Copyright infringement

November 4, 2010

Good holy ripoff. This is the biggest case of copyright infringement with chutzpah that I’ve ever seen. Cooks Source Magazine should be strung up from the rafters and flogged with barbed wire. Please read Copyright Infringement and Me, as authors need to be aware of what this disreputable magazine happily admits to doing WITH YOUR HARD WORK!

What really irritates me is that authors invariably ask me whether their work is safe when they query, and I tell them of course it is. After all, we’re way too busy looking for the next great book to worry about ripping someone off. Then a story like this comes along, and suddenly I worry about every author who puts their work on the internet. Even though you’re protected, you still have to go after these unscrupulous sons of motherless swine. Normally, a threat is good enough – unless you’re unlucky enough to be ripped off by editors like Cooks Source. They are betting that you don’t have the money or time to go after them, so they perpetuate their crimes.

This is an open message to always be diligent when you post your work online because there are arrogant scum sucking sewer dwellers who will steal your work and then expect you to thank them for doing you a service. I’m sickened right down to my dangling participles. Beagle, fire up the blender and contact your possy of German Shepherds…they need to go hunting twisted Cooks Source editors.

Edited to add:

Those of you with Twitter accounts, I recommend that you let Cooks Source know how you feel about their illegal practices. Here is their Twitter name: @cookssource


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