Online Courses and Copyright

As I work my way through the Smithsonian comic book course, I occasionally take part in one of the Facebook discussions.  Not surprisingly, my favorite Facebook group for the class is for writers.  We discuss our heroes.  We discuss our villains.  And, invariable, someone asks about copyright.  “If I post my idea here, is it published?  Do I still own it?  Can someone take it?”

The fact is simple — you cannot copyright an idea.

That means that if I have an idea for a hero, and I post it on Facebook or here on my blog, and someone takes that idea and uses it in a story . . . they’ve written a story based on my idea.  I can gripe.  I can whine.  But if it is nothing but a bare bones idea, I cannot copyright it.

If, on the other hand, I post a full story with my amazing new hero, and someone takes this story and posts it on their own blog or sells it to a magazine, that is a violation of my copyright.  Copyright covers the expression of an idea whether as a poem, story, article, essay or book.  A general idea?  Nope.  The letter Q?  Nope.

As much as it seems to bother some people, I don’t worry all that much about what I post on Facebook or what I post here. Why?  Because I’m not posting a fully developed story that I want to sell.

I also realize that many people consider my attitude disturbingly laid back.  One writer I know quit teaching writing classes because she was afraid that if she wrote a story about a specific topic, someone would accuse her of stealing their idea.  No, she would never do it on purpose but she worried so much about doing it accidentally that she quit teaching.

Obviously, this isn’t a topic about which I have all the answers.  This is simply my take on it.  Your mileage may vary.