Last night I spent some time looking at the massive amounts of work a colleague had done to develop a new animated kids series. I can’t tell you what it’s about or I’d have to kill you. Actually, the reality of anyone stealing another idea are minimal. Not because they’re against stealing in Literati Land, Tinsel Town or Alliteration Alley.
The reason ideas don’t get stolen is that it is very hard to actually get a producer, director, publisher, editor or anyone even close to someone close to getting a work produced to actually look at your cherished work. More on this later regarding the rabbit trail marathon of getting work produced.
Now the practical part.
I urged my friend to go to the U.S. Copyright website and register the work. All of it. The character backstory, the theme explorations, the test drawings and the pilot outlines. Until last year I had always registered with the WGAw, the Writer’s Guild of America. Anyone can pay them $20, upload their script, book or idea and have some peace of mind. But, according to my agent at the time, no real protection. He said the only way to protect your work was to pay for a real Copyright thru the Library of Congress. Not the Common Law Copyright where you mail yourself a copy and keep it sealed. This might be an urban myth, not sure.
Writers themselves have been called thieves. And that’s considered a good thing.
One of my favorite literary misquotes is from T.S. Eliot:
“Good poets borrow, great poets steal”
Or, as Oscar Wilde said,
“Talent borrows, Genius steals.”
I don’t usually delve into this rare and exotic scholarly device, the footnote, however, as I did study Eliot with the foremost Eliot scholar of the time, Christopher Ricks, I feel obligated to provide Eliot’s original quote, “One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”
I was glad to find the original in a great post with many good comments related to Harry Potter stealing from Lord of the Rings, etc. :
The age-old argument of archetype versus original continues. Until then, register your work. U.S. Copyright Office.