by Deren Hansen
What's the difference?
Patents protect ideas. Copyrights protect the expression of ideas.
means there's nothing to stop you from writing a story about a boy
wizard who falls for a sparkly vampire while they're trying to survive
as contestants in a blood-sport arena. The fact that other writers have
already expressed those ideas in books that achieved commercial success
doesn't necessarily stop you from expressing the same ideas. (As long as
it is a new expression and not plagiarism or a cheap knock-off.) What
matters, both in the eyes of the law and in the marketplace, is the
quality of the expression of the idea.
Like the experiment in Plato's Republic,
where Socrates examined states in order to understand personal virtue,
there's an analogy between copyright law and the delicious ideas that
spring up as you imagine the story you'll write.
your enthusiasm for those ideas, you'll be tempted to share. There's
nothing so heady as cornering someone who will listen to you and
explaining how great the story will be. It's all present and
vibrant for you. Of course, what you really want is the validation that
comes when someone else acknowledges your ideas.
the fact of the matter is that great ideas about what could happen in
your story are meaningless until you express them (i.e., write them
down). Put another way, if, like the tree that falls in the forest, no
one else can appreciate the idea in its expressed form, then for all
practical purposes, it didn't happen.
At a personal
level, this means that the satisfaction of someone saying, "Yes, that's a
great idea," must be delayed until you've found a compelling way to
express that idea. And if you're looking for acknowledgment from a
circle larger than critique partners, beta readers, agents, and editors,
you'd better be prepared to wait years between the idea and its