Friday, September 26, 2008

Writer Rip Off?

I listened to a woman who stated, and I am quoting loosely: "Writers get ripped off all the time. I've had my stuff stolen. I know that staff writers of magazines where I've submitted have taken my ideas. I wrote a novel and was told by an editor that the publishing company that rejected me ripped me off."

My response was a rolling of the eyes. Maybe I'm naive, but I just don't believe magazines and publishers rip people off like this. How would they stay in business? The publishing world is a small world (or at least it feels that way to me) and people who do wrong in the community tend to have their names dragged through the mud. Of course, with most publishing in the hands of five megacorporations, maybe this has changed. I don't think so.

Screenwriters have complained and several filed suit against studios who have ripped the writers off stating: "You can't copyright an idea". Recent court decisions have gone with the writers and studios are becoming shy about cheating people. After all, why steal work as a studio or publisher when there are so many people out there willing to come forward with quality product. The influence of writers' unions also put influence on the studios to reward work done.

Getting published is hard. Bang. That's it. But I don't believe one of the elements making it hard is that there are unscrupulous editors and publishers out there denying writers their just reward.

Again, maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there will now follow an army of comments by writers with horror stories. We'll see. My gut though tells me my initial impression is correct.


Lisa said...

I'm eye rolling too. Let me guess. I'll bet the woman whose work was so brilliant that legitimate publications felt the need to steal it (instead of pay for it) is unpublished. Just a hunch.

Rick said...

Well, consider this news bulletin:

"On October 29 (of last year) a majority of a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal rejected the $18 million settlement reached in March 2005 after two years of heated negotiations between freelance writers and publishers over electronic copyright infringements involving unauthorized sales over the Internet of writers’ copyrighted works.

The majority decided that writers who had not registered their works with the U.S. Copyright Office are denied any access to federal court for copyright protection and claimed the U.S. District Court had been wrong to accept the case and approve the settlement."

Then there is the new Orphan Works legislation that the National Writers Union is contesting, which is a copyright nightmare in itself.

Although I'm sure that there will always be unscrupulous players who will steal from creative people who lack the resources to pursue litigation, I think they, like criminals at large, are in the minority.

What is far more scandalous to me are the changes in copyright being pursued by Google, the rejection of the electronic copyright case I mentioned earlier, and legislations put forward and accepted such as the Orphan Works.

Have you ever seen the website I'd be interested in what you think of it as I've seen it used by a few bloggers.

SQT said...

I lean on the eye-rolling side too...

Most suits I see that are brought against companies or authors that claim someone stole their work get tossed out. J.K. Rowling has had to deal with more than her share of people who'd like to get their hands on the Harry Potter money. Success brings all the frauds out of the woodwork.

Demon Hunter said...

Yeah, eye rolling here too. Screenwriters definitely have something to fear though, usually from other :-)

Stewart Sternberg said...

lisa, you would be correct.

Rick, I will have to do more reading on the stuff about copyright from the writers' union.

SQT, I know. I challenged this person, bluntly stating that I was skeptical, that I didn't believe her. We agreed to leave it with us both content to leave the other with their opinion.

demon, some screenwriters scare the poop out of me...anyone who works with Uwe Boll for instance.

Jenn said...

If you do any writing for the internet, you'll see your stuff get stolen all the time. There's a "publisher" being sued in 4 different states right now for hiring writers, publishing the work and never paying a dime for it.

Donnetta Lee said...

I think you are right, Stew. I do believe that when an idea wants/needs to be "out there" that it will find its way into enough minds so that SOMEONE will get it published. Might feel so someone else that the idea was stolen. Just beaten to the punch. D

Stewart Sternberg said...

jenn, it's probably easy to steal someone's work from the net, although for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would want to.

donetta, in my mind creativity is about baby steps, bringing together patterns and making different patterns.

Zoe Winters said...

Aside from students cheating on school papers, there isn't really a lot of this "stealing" going on.

Some writers are even paranoid to share their work with Crit partners. But the thing about most other writers is...they want to write their OWN ideas. Writing is about self expression.

Even if you got rich and famous off of a book written by someone else, well wouldn't that be rather hollow? Because there is no true pride of it being your work.

Ideas aren't copyrightable. It was long ago judged and judged rightly that many people have the same or similar ideas simultaneously. It's the expression of the ideas, not the ideas themselves.

If it were the ideas themselves no one could write nonfiction either. Because people are expressing the same thing a lot of the time with a slightly different twist or voice behind it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Zoe, I think people are better off worrying about improving their writing skills and learning the ins and outs of the market than worrying about being ripped off. As for ideas, I believe creativity is a process taken in tiny steps. It is not a mystical process.

Lana Gramlich said...

I think Charles was ripped off this way once, but you'd have to check with him. I believe he had a work rejected & only found out later (net surfing,) that it'd actually been published & was for sale, after all.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Lana, where was it ripped off from? I mean, was it ripped off from a netsource? The internet begs for a possible rip off. Was it word for word? Was it an idea?

Barbara Martin said...

I was told by a best selling author that someone with a particular idea had no fear of losing it to others, because another writer would write something different on that topic. It would not match the first person's story because it would be a different slant on the plot.

As I post material on my blog I am careful about the content to avoid that very thing: writer rip off.

Just a question on your ripped off artist: did she approach the publisher without an agent?

Stewart Sternberg said...

Yep. No agent. I don't know much more about the situation though. I don't know the name of the publisher and I don't know what sort of book it might have been. Still, all that being skepticism remains.