Stop, Thief! Them’s My Words!

You’d think a new writer would be worried about learning her craft. But no. The first thing this precious writer wants to know is, “What if somebody tries to steal my stuff?” She wants to know how to get a copyright, how to exercise her rights to prevent theft of her valuable intellectual property. Talk about three impossible things before breakfast! I try to be gentle. “The odds of anyone stealing your writing are higher than your being struck by lightning standing on your head at the golf course. Really.”
New Writer’s eyes bulge out. “But won’t some slimeball steal my ideas?”
I don’t have the heart to say her ideas are probably about as useful as a bicycle with no wheels, as original as sin, as creative as a bad velvet Elvis painting. So I launch into my standard copyright explanation.
“Your material is copyrighted the moment you write it,” I say. But student writers never believe me. To many, that copyright symbol must only be available to those who can fill out a form and send in the fee. Copyright laws aren’t like the DMV, people. “It’s true,” I repeat. “Most writers are more concerned with others stealing their stuff than actually plagiarizing other writers. If you still feel vulnerable, you can put your own little “c” in the circle symbol on everything you write.”
Now I’ve done it.
New Writer retorts that the “c” symbol must be government-issued, backed up by some federal law. It’s probably policed by the same agency that monitors mattress DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW tags. She figures if any hack tries to make off with her words, she’ll just report him to the proper authorities. Sorry, but except for big names like J.K Rowling or Stephen King, there aren’t any. So what’s a new writer to do?
I can’t force myself to tell her to get over herself, that her brilliant idea for the bestselling book of all time was probably published last year. That if she tries to get in on the vampire trend, she’s probably too late. That she’d be better off apprenticing herself to learning the writing craft.
Besides, she’s probably going to attach this note to the copyright symbol: DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Stop, Thief! Them’s My Words!

  1. Hilarious! I love you, Linda. You totally crack me up. I recently had a friend ask if I wasn’t worried about someone stealing my blog stuff. I had to laugh. “They’re welcome to it. But then they’d have to live as a recovering Christian drunk with a really dumb dog.” People are funny. I’m sure stuff gets stolen. But don’t you think it would take more work to try to disguise the stuff as your own than it would to write something fresh? Love your blog, Linda. Gonna repost this one on fb. I get to be funny tomorrow. I’ve been way too serious last couple posts. Heather

  2. As usual, I myself silly. When I teach writing classes, I can plan on spending half a class session on this topic alone. Next time, I’ll just make readiong this blog post a homework assignment.

    • Heather, it is a rare privilege to be cracked up by someone as good with words as you. I’m sure stuff gets stolen, too (I think you may have told me a horror story of your own!) but I agree, it’s harder to disguise someone’s stuff and claim it as your own than to write something fresh. But it’s the fresh (as in original, profound, funny or entertaining) that trips people up. Love your stuff too, and no I won’t steal it. I’ll just sit here and quietly envy you. 🙂 ~Linda

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