Copyright – can someone steal my idea?

27th July 2012
3 min read
27th July 2016

Do you worry about how to protect your literary efforts?

Many writers are concerned that submitting their book to publishers or agents runs a risk – a risk that their work might be stolen (gasp!).

Isn’t there a chance that an agent would pick up their idea and pass it onto to an already established author? Or perhaps ‘sell’ it to a publisher who in turn might go and commission a book on that very subject?

I always tell writers not to waste their time fretting about this. Firstly, reputable publishers and agents are not in the business of ‘stealing’ work. They are inundated with plenty of writers with plenty of ideas and if yours has potential then rest assured the agent or publisher will be interested in you and your work.

Likewise, if they reject your manuscript, it’ll be because your book isn’t suitable for their list of titles, not because they’ve passed the idea on to someone else.

But should you happen across a book similar to yours, could this mean your idea has been stolen? Well let’s be realistic, bearing in mind the number of writers in the world, there is every chance more than one might arrive at very similar themes. It might then be a case of who writes it in a more marketable way or even who gets there first.

What you are able to copyright is ‘the expression of an idea’. This means your actual written sentences, your characters, plot, argument and conclusion. All you need to do to safeguard these (and to gain ownership of the copyright of your work) is to get them down on paper.

A book idea floating around your head or hatched out with your best mate in the pub will not be covered.

Just be sensible and keep all your initial workings and preliminary plans, whether saved on your computer or as scribbles in your diary. Some writers post themselves a dated copy of their finished manuscript to ensure they have concrete proof that the work belongs to them.

So, worrying about your work being stolen is really just giving yourself one more thing to worry about (easy if you’re a natural worrier – I am). Your ultimate aim is to express your idea in book form, as a sellable product to a publisher, and fortunately this is exactly what your copyright protects.

Want to know more? The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook has an entire section devoted to the tricky subject of copyright and libel.

If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

The Basics of How Copyright Works