You’re a bestselling author.
Not just a bestseller in modest terms, your third novel has sold two million copies.
It’s now a Hollywood blockbuster to the tune of $369+ M.
5-years passed since your novel’s release. Instead of basking in the glow of accomplishment. You find yourself answering a copyright infringement complaint in the United States District Court.
Sound far-fetched? It might be more common than you think.
Recently, I read a viral article on LinkedIn that promoted an author’s new book.
Although the writer changed the words, the concept and content looked as if the writer copied it straight from The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin.
A competing publisher released the latter in 2008. The former is in the pre-publication stage.
When you’re an avid reader and film watcher, sometimes you remember where you first read/heard the line or content.
If you take a lot of notes, it’s hard to ignore someone who has copied another writer’s work.
The concept put forth is so similar to Waitzkin’s claim, that I found it hard to believe the book’s editor didn’t do a plagiarism search.
Then again, maybe it’s not that serious. And there is attribution to Waitzkin in the soon-to-be-published book.
Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t give credit or link to him in the article. It appears the writer is taking full credit for the concept.
Maybe I’m too anal. Although it’s challenging to come up with an innovative story angle, it doesn’t seem right to take credit for another’s work.
Then again, maybe you can’t copyright a concept. And the spoils go to the most famous writer.
Since I’m not an expert on intellectual property, I can’t say either way. But reading Law 360’s Media & Entertainment report, copyright infringement complaints seem to be a daily occurrence.
On Friday, December 8, 2017, Law 360’s listed Cartoon Network’s Black Jesus and Gone Girl copyright infringement cases.
The judge dismissed one complaint. The plaintiff just filed the other.
Note: Both stories are behind Law 360’s paywall. The links provided are from The Hollywood Reporter and TMZ. For more on those complaints, check out Scribd Randy Brown AKA Saint Solomon and Weller v Flynn.
So, I’m not saying the following is true, but if I were writing a plot for this latest copyright infringement complaint, it would go something like this.
A literary agent is about to lose her most promising client; an exciting well-known entertainment journalist whose first two novels so far have only midlist.
They are working on what might be the third and final novel.
Desperate for a Hail Mary pass, the agent shares an idea for a plot twist. She hopes it will turn the lackluster novel into a bestselling behemoth. “Everybody’s getting rich,” she says.
Except, it’s not her idea to share. 7-years before a playwright shared the plot twist with the literary agent.
The playwright files a copyright infringement complaint.
Pretrial Motions ensues. The judge dismisses the case.
Fade to black.
While this is a scenario is from the mind of a writer, 99 designs collected a few cases of copyright infringement that favored the plaintiff.
The bottom-line: writers are voracious readers and media content consumers. It’s easy to think you thought of it first.
So, to protect yourself now is a good time to start keeping notes in a commonplace book.
If you document what you’ve read, you’ll be prepared to give credit where credit is due.
Not all lawsuits are frivolous, but they can be expensive when your reputation is at stake.
Thank you for reading!
Weller vs. Flynn update: On May 21, 2018, in UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION Civil Case terminated Judgment in favor of the defendants.