Copyright: you can’t lock up your ideas

Can you protect your ideas for blogs, books, etc.?

Copyright: you can't lock up your ideasThere is a very short and not very pleasant answer here: you can’t. You can copyright titles, texts, poems, novels, etc., and you can trademark a logo or name, but until an idea is expressed and recorded in some considerable detail you can’t stop somebody else developing and exploiting it, or at least something very similar to it.

Once upon a time – at around the time that food intolerances became fashionable – I came up with a nifty idea to develop a range of dairy-free and gluten-free food products. Like a good citizen I consulted my friendly local Business Link advisor who said, “great idea, forget it.”

When I asked why he said, “because your potential distributors, like supermarkets, will sit back and watch while you spend a fortune on developing the products, get a few samples from you, make the products themselves with small differences in names and ingredients, and then tell you to **** off.”

Another time I came up with an idea for a documentary series for one of the main TV channels in the UK. I made four consecutive presentations to so-called “commissioning editors” (who turned out afterwards to have been freelance, independent producers) who liked the idea very much. Then I heard nothing.

12 months later the channel aired a series using not only my idea, but even my title … the only thing they had changed was whereas I had suggested featuring three men and three women, they had six women. Although I had what seemed like a valid case, I was advised that should I try to take legal action they would mess me around with their expensive lawyers until I ran out of money.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there

It’s often a case of striking a balance. On the one hand you want to run your idea past sufficient people whose opinions you value, and this is a very important part of your development and refinement processes. On the other hand, though, you don’t want to talk about your idea in a busy pub, bar, restaurant or even bus or train, because you never know who might be listening.

And even if you write up your idea in some detail, it won’t necessarily be enough to prove it’s yours in a court of law. When I had my run-in with that TV channel (see above) my idea ran to a 20 page proposal with skeleton scripts of each episode and a full production and post-production budget.

Essentially, the only real protection you can get is if your idea could only possibly be developed and written by you … and that anyone else couldn’t do it successfully without you.

So … use your uniqueness!

And if you have any tips on how writers and other “creatives” can protect their ideas, please share them – they will be very gratefully received!

Writing advice that helps you win:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“Business Writing Made Easy…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

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