For years, when I [Sarah] sold a book to a traditional publishing house, I had to sign a contract that said that in case of being sued for plagiarism I’d pay for any expenses the publisher incurred. Or something like that. It always made me a little uncomfortable because I knew that if a book got big enough someone would sue me for plagiarism. Witness the lawsuit over Harry Potter by some woman who had written a children’s book with a character named Harry Potter who had a scar. There was nothing else in common, and yes, it’s entirely possible that J. K. Rowling got the name from that book (because we read so much, as writers, that minor stuff like that sticks. You can usually track what I’ve been reading by the general trend of character names.)
But character names aren’t copyrightable. They’re trademark-able, (and I haven’t checked, but I bet Harry Potter IS trademarked now.) Ideas aren’t copyrightable either, but their execution is. This can be a hazy region for many people. Many people hear that ideas aren’t copyrightable and set about stealing everything in a book, because everything is an idea, right?
Well, yes, and no. You could say the idea is embodied in words, and so long as you don’t copy the words, you’re doing fine. So, say you want to write the story of a man who has a cat named Pete and who travels backward in time to fix something that he did wrong. If you keep it at that level, but the story, the future and the setting is all yours, you can call it a Heinlein homage. But make the man an inventor of household gadgets, make him be cheated out of his work by his crooked partner and the character’s ex-fiance, make him be put in cold sleep against his will, and then have to travel back to rescue his cat and the little girl who grows up to be his wife and… Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d be looking over my shoulder for the long arm of the Heinlein estate, if I plagiarized The Door Into Summer to that extent.
What I mean is, the general — very general — idea is not copyrightable, and you might even be able to “steal” the high level plot, but once you get to the details you’re in dangerous territory. At the worst you’ll get sued. At best, you’ll become known as not very creative.
Say you write about a family with too many daughters to marry and one of them makes an unsuitable marriage, while another aims too high… Even if Austen were still in copyright, no one would complain. But if you set it in the regency and follow the plot step by step… Well, I’d never have been able to write A Touch of Night if Pride and Prejudice were still in copyright.
If you write fanfic about something that is still in copyright, be sure you then rewrite enough to clean any traces of where it started. My friend Kate Paulk talks about this at our group blog. In the trade this is called “filing the serial numbers” off a story and there’s a way to do it. (And before you ask why there is a word for it: sometimes there are shared universe stories and novels that get rejected; work for hire that gets rejected, etc. People file the serial numbers to be able to publish it.) My friend, Amanda Green also talks about it on her blog.
This is important right now, because someone has sold a painting that is a copy of an Asimov cover for over five million dollars. IO9 covers it here. To quote:
What’s the difference between these two images? On the left is a book cover by legendary artist Chris Foss for Asimov’s Stars Like Dust. On the right is a painting by artist Glenn Brown, which just sold at auction for roughly $5.7 million, way more than it sold for in 2002.
How did this happen? Brown basically reimagined Foss’ work — although it looks as though all he did was repaint it, and fool around with the colors slightly.
Brown was actually sued several years ago by artist Anthony Roberts, after Brown copied Roberts’ cover for Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star for his painting The Loves of Shepherds 2000. At the time, Foss reportedly expressed interest in joining the suit. To be fair, Brown’s pastiche of the Double Star cover was somewhat less blatant than the above copy of Stars Like Dust seems to be.
The “artist”‘s defense is that as there are no new ideas, he’s just doing the best he can… or something. I don’t know if he’ll get away with it — artists are even more impecunious than indie writers, and they might not be able to sue. But I know he SHOULDN’T get away with it and that I find him repellent as a human being.
So, don’t do that to other people. It’s okay to take inspiration, but theft is wrong. And on the flip side, as an impecunious indie agent, do yourself a favor and copyright all your work. Yes, it’s technically copyrighted from the moment you put it in “permanent” form, be it paper, electrons or carved on a wall. But my lawyer tells me it’s much easier to sue — and cheaper — for copyright infringement if you have filed copyright. I know the fee can be serious money for indie, but do it anyway. The world is full of bad people, and you need to protect yourself.
Charlie’s administrivia: We actually didn’t have many submissions for this week. Now, there are several reasons for this, large among them that I was overambitious last week in order to get a book with a special offer in the list in time for the special offer.
Now, that was okay, because Gods know we’ve got friends with books that deserve plugging, but this shouldn’t be just for our friends. So, it’s the New Year, and I want to encourage you all to send books to be plugged to email@example.com. Remember to include the TITLE, the AUTHOR’S NAME as given on the cover, a BLURB, and — this is very important — an AMAZON LINK.
If you do have a special offer coming up, make sure to get us the information two weeks ahead of time so we can be sure to get it plugged on time.
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.
Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.
Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.
Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.
A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.
ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.
Cooper Jones is an alcoholic with a super-power, he is an empath, almost able to read minds … almost! He’s also a Swansea traffic warden and doesn’t have to read minds to know what people think of him. However, he had no idea how hated he was until he was bound to Mumbles Pier and left to drown.
Maggie Thrasher is looking for a man, not to love but to kill. Duty to her pride and loyalty to her family demands it.
Joshua Volk has betrayed pride, pack and clan. All he cares about is destroying the old ways and killing anyone, normal or shape-changer, who gets in his way.
Jim Kincade is dedicated to two things: upholding the law and protecting the pride from discovery.
When Jim is called to the scene of a possible murder, the last thing he expects is to discover the alleged killer is a tracker from another pride. Now he’s faced with a woman who is most definitely more than she appears. Complicating matters even more, there’s something about her that calls to him and his leopard is determined to claim her for his own.
Joshua Volk is looking for revenge. Maggie killed one of his own. His vengeance will bring Maggie’s worst nightmares to life. Is the passion between Maggie and Jim enough to defeat Volk’s plans or will Maggie’s determination to fulfill her duty to her pride be the death of them both?
Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble and his ghost girlfriend are called to the Vampire Circus when a fortune teller’s cards go missing. Not exactly the glamorous life, but the stakes escalate when a vampire trapeze act goes dead wrong, and Shamble discovers even more skeletons in the closet than the ones that live there. As he shuffles for clues through an unnatural cast of carnies, he faces a slate of suspects that could freak out even the most daring detective–a werewolf lion tamer, a fat lady with an enormous secret, an undead ringmaster. . .and what could be scarier than a circus clown? The only thing certain is that the show must go on–dead or alive.
Someone murders Aramis’ mistress, while the musketeer is alone with her. His friends help him escape, but even they can’t be sure he didn’t do it. Beset by peril and doubts, Aramis, Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan MUST find the true murderer before he or she finds them. All while the Cardinal stands ready to take advantage of their predicament.
Ten astounding tales by triple award nominee Brad R. Torgersen. Go on fantastic new adventures at the bottom of Earth’s oceans and at the edge of the solar system. Meet humans who are utterly alien and aliens who are all too human. Originally featured in the pages of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine as well as Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, these stories are gathered here for the first time, along with anecdotes and other commentary from the author.
Features the stories Ray of Light (2012 Hugo & Nebula nominee), Outbound (2011 Analog Readers Choice Award winner), and Exanastasis (2010 Writers of the Future Award winner).
Introductions by Stanley Schmidt, Mike Resnick and Allan Cole.
A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.
Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: in this case tracing the Vampire bride’s absconded or kidnapped groom.
The groom should have been a troll by the name of Billy Gruff, the manager and owner of the Ricketty-Racketty Club – a topless bar and nightclub. Bolg finds himself, and his client embroiled in murder, extortion and a Celtic wizard. The latter is supposedly helping him, but wizard’s help is not always what it you think it will be.