Preventing the theft of ideas?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by Pelican, Jun 17, 2011.

  1. Pelican

    Pelican Member

    Suppose I discuss a paper-in-progress with some other students, to gather their perspective. One likes the concept and quickly puts together his own paper on the topic, and sends it off to a journal.

    Does this happen? How can one protect themselves from this?
  2. b4cz28

    b4cz28 New Member

    I think that it happens all the time. The only way it would seem one could stop this is to not speak to anyone about your ideas.
  3. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I would ask how he was able to finish starting from scratch before you, since you were already in progress.

  4. FJD

    FJD Member

    Sounds like you were the victim of a form of Arrow's Information Paradox, which roughly describes situations where someone has a potentially valuable idea but in order to sell it to another, the owner must disclose it in enough detail to permit the buyer to assess its value. The problem is that by doing this, the owner has essentially turned over the information for free, damaging its value and exposing it to copying, etc. This normally applies in the context of patent law, but it seems applicable to your situation, which relates to copyright law.

    Arrow information paradox - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I'm not a copyright lawyer or anything, but from my limited knowledge an author automatically retains the copyright for works he creates. However, the works must 1st be registered before you can sue an infringer. If I were you, in the future I would make it very clear to whomever you share your work with that it is copyrighted, and that you are very serious about about protecting your rights. If nothing else, this might make potential infringers think twice before stealing your ideas.
  5. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    In the past it was recommended that the originator write up their idea to whatever extent is possible and then mail it to themselves. The postmark served as an indication of when the idea was "invented." Just don't open the envelope when it arrives.
  6. Pelican

    Pelican Member

    Perhaps the individual was preparing something in greater depth on the issue, had less experience publishing, and was less confident in the value of their ideas or the that their work was ready or worthy of print.
    Would that really protect you? "Look, I've had a self-address letter locked away in my drawer with the very same idea for several weeks." Who would listen to you?
  7. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    If it made you happier you could get it notarized. But then maybe the notary would steal you ideas.
  8. HikaruBr

    HikaruBr Member

    Ideas are not protected by copyright laws (either in the USA or in most of the rest of the world) - only the actual realization of ideas.

    So, there's actually no way to protect your idea. What you can do is protect your paper after you started it.
  9. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    Good point by you. I would only add that paranoia is no way to go through life.
  10. ITJD

    ITJD Active Member

    Three things:

    1. You broke the cardinal rule of research. There are likely millions of examples of people who got credit for things they didn't come up with. Edison a prime example.

    2. The best way to protect ideas is to do something with them. If a paper is in progress and someone was able to write a paper with your ideas and submit to a journal faster than you were able to get the paper out.. that's on you. Presumably the other person had less of a head start than you did and still got to the finish line first. Whose fault is that?

    3. Last, poor man's copyright of a partial idea via sending it to self would not work in this case as your ideas were not a finished work. You'd get credit for as far as you went and anything further than that as a derivative work wouldn't be protected. Besides which, you'd have to prove a conversation took place about your work and unless you were taping it or had testimony from others confirming it is hearsay.

    Only protection is to be quiet about your ideas until you publish, I'm afraid.
  11. KariS

    KariS New Member

    A while back my spouse pitched an idea for a book to a publisher, after about 6 months of megotiations on cntract terms the publisher said no thanks. 3 months later the publisher came out with a same concept (different tilte) book using inhouse writers, options for my spouse - none. BTW most publishers refuse to sign non-disclosure contracts because they get similar pitches from different writers all the time.

    To make the sting worse it was a religous book concept and the publishing house was religlious (topic) publisher.

    Morel, you spin the wheel and take your chances.
  12. FJD

    FJD Member

    Have to politely disagree about the hearsay part. OP could certainly testify that a conversation took place w/ the alleged infringer over a hearsay objection, because the testimony would not meet the definition of hearsay (an out of court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted). Here, OP could offer the testimony, not for its truth, but to show that 1., a conversation took place w/ the infringer, and 2., that the infringer had notice that OP claimed copyrights in his work, something that goes to the heart of the claim (note that it would be improper to offer this evidence on the issue whether OP's work was in fact copyrighted). Infringer could present his own evidence in support of his side of the story, and the fact finder would decide who's more credible. Please forgive me for having a nerdy evidence law moment.
  13. ITJD

    ITJD Active Member

    Disagreement is perfectly fine. It's what healthy discourse is built upon.

    However, after having been a part of three suits operating against music companies as the plaintiff trying to secure my rights to royalties over disputed writing credits, I'll feel safer with my position than to throw my hat in with yours considering the burden of proof lies with the OP and most people having to fight these battles are schmucks the first time they have to do it. (self included).

    At some point I hope to be on level footing in terms of a pure legal conversation but to be honest, I'm not there yet.


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