Someone Stole My Copyrighted Idea! Whadda I Do?

So here I am dinking around the internets, as I am want to do on a Thursday night, when on a lark I start looking for an old writing project I once did years ago. I’m starting a new project and thought about re-using the name, since I thought it was a good and brilliant name and I liked it. I couldn’t find it immediately, but I did find someone else’s blog using the exact same name. The exact same name (and not entirely dissimilar style) as my brilliant project from long, long ago.

Sleuthing around for dates, I find my project predates theirs by a couple of weeks. Not a lot, but the beginning of a month and the end of a month is plenty of time inbetween for someone to rip off my Flaming Homer.

I copyrighted mine -or, at the very least, put © and some words at the bottom of all pages (this was years ago)- so would that mean I have the rights to my copies?

Can I to sue the bastards for all they’re worth and retire in the Bahamas? At the very least, if I re-used my brilliant work and name could I do it without those jerks suing me?

I don’t think you can copyright a name.




You can’t copyright a name or an idea. If they stole text you can sue them for that.

Technically, the work is copyrighted as soon as you put it into “tangible form”. You don’t need to put the © symbol at the bottom of the page. That symbol (and whatever text you put with it) doesn’t really get you anything.

However, in order to be able to sue someone, you need to register your copyright, which you apparently did not do. Basically, look at it this way. If you go into court, what evidence do you have that proves that you actually had this at the time that you say you did?

You’ll probably want to contact a lawyer before re-using your brilliant name and idea. There’s a very good chance that in the eyes of the law, they own it all now.

More info from the U.S. Copyright Office:

People keep getting copyrights, trademarks, and patents mixed up. Copyrights are for creative work. Trademarks are for names used within a given area. Patents are for inventions. There’s much more to be said about this, so even to start with you would have to go to an intellectual property rights lawyer to find out if you have any case at all. It’s hard to tell in your case because you were so vague, but I doubt that you have any case at all (but then I’m not a lawyer). Are you saying that all they did is that they used the same name for their blog as you did?

No, you don’t.

Copyright legally exists once work is put in tangible form. The instant you write a short story, you have copyright and if someone steals it you can sue them. It does not need to be “registered” or have anything else done to it.

Of course, registering something - or doing anything else that proves you were the first to write it - would make the lawsuit a lot easier to prove. After all, if I wrote “Under the Dome” before Stephen King, and wanted to sue him for it, I’d have to provide some evidence I wrote it first, right?

My apologies, but I misunderstood the post to which I was replying and my answer is not precisely accurate.

Copyright protection does not rely on registration but it is true that the formality of registration has to be done in order to process a formal legal action claiming copyright violation.

The registration dosn’t need to be made right when the work is completed, but you’d need to go through the process later in order to sue someone.

What’s the point in saying something is copyrighted as soon as its created if it still doesn’t have a legal standing unless registered? I mean I’m sure it’s just to give the creator a bit of time to register the copyright but unless the “voluntary” copyright registration process is went through, the copyright is pretty much pointless, no?

Copyright protects very specific things. Names, titles, and slogans often are trademarks. “Ideas” would fall under patents. Considering ideas are a dime a dozen, its not unusual to see someone independently discover the same thing you do. In fact, its pretty common.

Unless direct text was taken from you, I think youre being unreasonable. I mean, if I name my blog “Mr. Horse’s Great Adventure” and you once wrote a short story with that name, then I doubt you have any right to take it from me. Especially if you have never shown me your work.

Partly it’s because copyright exists in unpublished works. For example, suppose you write a diary, which you never show to anyone else, and someone else gets access to it, copies it and publishes it, you’d be able to sue for breach of copyright. Why would you want to register a work that (1) is continuous, because you’re writing it day by day, and (2) has never been published or even shown to anyone else?

Read here for info about US copyright registration. Note the really big plus of registration is that one can sue for damages and legal costs. Otherwise, the ~best one could hope for is to just stop the infringer.

One can always take an infringer to court. It’s mainly a question of what you will be able to get out of it.

This isn’t quite accurate. You can sue someone for infringement and get a takedown or stop publishing order whether or not you registered the copyright. You can also collect actual damages, or money you can show you lost. Registration is proof of the timing of copyright and also allows you to recover punitive damages, which are essentially a fine to punish the offender, and court costs. Punitive damages are normally much higher than actual damages, since it is so hard to prove a loss.

That’s important. Registration allows to recoup court costs if you win the case; if you don’t register, you’re paying out of your own pocket, even if you win.

But remember, you can’t copyright an idea. Your copyright covers the actual work you created, not the idea behind the work. So if I want to write a series of stories set at a boarding school that teaches kids to use magic, I’m free to do so. And there are hundreds of stories that use this exact setting (see: X-men comics, etc, etc).

So you can’t copyright the idea of a cartoon about a talking horse. Neither can you patent it. You can get a trademark for your distinctive character, but someone else could draw a talking horse that doesn’t look anything like your talking horse–just because Mickey Mouse is a Disney trademark doesn’t mean that no one else is allowed to draw a talking mouse.

Just a quick note about asking questions about real-life copyright/trademark/patent situations:

The exact facts really matter. Vague questions about “this invention I made” or whatever are very difficult to answer without just summarizing all aspects of the law.

For better answers, post more details.

Apart from all of the answers given, it’s also because it’s an extremely cost-efficient way of affording legal protection.

If everyone knows that what you someone writes is copyrighted ab initio, and you can register the copyright (and thus expand the legal remedies available to you) even after the infringement has occurred, then this system has just created a free “quasi-registration” that acts as an extremely effective deterrent to infringement: i don’t have to pay so long as no one infringes, but once infringement occurs, i can pay and expand my remedies.

Okay, this is what I originally thought – that registration’s main benefit was having tangible proof of the date you created the work, and that you can still try and sue someone without having your copyright registered (it’s just going to be more difficult).

Pretty much, yes. And I’m demanding millions in settlement from the bastards. On a more serious note, if I were to re-use my title (since I came up with it) would I be able to do so without them suing me/sending nasty letters? Or is the fact that I essentially abandoned my project years ago while they continued theirs tip the scales on their part?

If you can’t copyright a title, then they can’t copyright a title.

If they trademarked the name, however, all bets are off.

You’re talking about trademarks, not copyrights.

You don’t need to register a trademark, but doing so provides strong proof in case of a lawsuit.

As for actually suing them… it sounds unlikely that they “stole” your idea, and parallel development exists and frequently happens. You could instigate a lawsuit against them and attempt to recover damages; you’d have to prove these damages, however. It sounds like you have no actual damages to prove, so the best result you’re gonna get is an order to stop using the name and possibly a pitiful amount; balance against that the expense and time involved in bringing a lawsuit. Is it really worth it?

To me this sounds like a case of unfortunate parallel development (two weeks is neither here nor there - what if they produce documents which proves that their idea was three weeks old at the time of launch? Would you be happy if they sued you?) In addition, they did something with the name, whereas you did not; that will weigh very heavily in their favour.

Sounds like a frivolous lawsuit. Drop it and move on.

As others have said you can’t copyright a name. The best example are song titles. “Cherish” by Kool and The Gang, and by Madonna and by The Association. All different songs, and all the same name.

A trademark is a bit different and the Internet has effected this somewhat.

In the old days you could have two people with the same name holding the same trademark. In fact you still can but due to the Internet it’s a bit harder.

For example let’s say I have a business called “Mark’s hardware.” My business is located soley in Chicagoland. Suppose some in Houston decides to open a store called “Mark’s hardware,” and that store is located exclusively in Houston.

Since the territories are so far apart and neither one does business in the other’s territory, both trademarked names would be likely to be valid.

In other words no one in the Houston or Chicago area could use the name “Mark’s hardware,” but in other areas of the country you’d be able to

Now, Walmart, Sears, Target,etc these are stores with national presence. Even if your particular area didn’t have a Target for fifty miles it’d be imossible to have another store with a trademark name was Walmart or Target.

This was once the standard for trademarks. With the Internet this has been erroded. After all you put Mark’s Hardware into a search engine and it’ll come up regardless where it is. There is no “terrority” on the Internet.

You also have an area called use specific trademark names. For instance, Joel Hyatt in Chicago was a lawyer and advertised “Hyatt Legal Service” Hyatt Hotels sued and won, but on appeal and all the way up, Hyatt lost. The appeals courts kept ruling, since Hyatt is HOTELS and this man is Hyatt LEAGAL SERVICES, there is no conflict.

The case was finally resolved with Hyatt Legal Services winning but putting a disclaimer on their ads “not affilaited with Hyatt Hotels”

Domain name squatting is another huge issue in itself. This is basically taking a domain name, possibly tradmarked name and holding it without having any “valid” use for it.

This is why many people “park” their domains. Let’s say I register “Markxxx.Com” and don’t do anything with it. Then let’s say a guy forms a band called “Markxxx” and sues me for trademark infrignment and squatting on his domain name.

Because I have never done anything with that domain name one could argue that I am not entitled to it. If I “park” it or put some info on that domain name, like one of those search sites on it, I could argue my having it serves a purpose.

Would I win in that case? Who knows a judge would decide.