I have been in many writing groups and run my own for 9 years now.
I think the "writer who will steal my precious ideas" is 99.9999 a myth at the same level as the bogeyman who lives in the closet.
If this is a myth then why do teachers always warn students against plagiarism? Why is there a need for copyright laws and why are there so many lawsuits against people for doing that exact thing?
Plagiarism does not relate at all to "ideas". You can only assert copyright over the fixed work (words in a specific order). So that is a completely separate issue to someone stealing, for example, the idea of a pink haired pixies saving the forest from wolves (or whatever the idea is).
And any teacher that stokes fear even about being a victim of plagiarism from a writers group... probably isn't published. That is also 99.00% just not going to happen. They tend more to be making the point that you should never do it because it will cause your writing career to blow up in your face. Not that you should never share your work with your peers out of fear of it.
Then I stand corrected on the "idea" concept and will rephrase my comment. I am referring to people who paraphrase the works of others. This has happened.
Substantial paraphrasing without proper citation is considered a form of plagiarism (that's part of the official description of it at the university where I teach).
Also, 'borrowing' a plot theme (book or movie) is frowned on - there have been lawsuits related to writing that significantly follows the plot of another work, but changes the writing. There were lawsuits about at least two movies, Coming to America and My Big Fat Greek Wedding come to mind. One very famous book was also the subject of a lawsuit - I think it was Gone With The Wind, but can't recall for sure.
Ideas can indeed be protected - that's why there are Intellectual Property laws.
Schools can punished paraphrasing because they have pretty much absolute power of how they run themselves. Under the law it is not illegal. And as a former lecturer, yeah, trying to actually dock a grade based on paraphrasing is pointless. Even blatant word-for-word plagiarism is getting harder to push through to the point where the student is actually penalized, sadly.
And to sue over theft of an idea is a trademark or IP suit not a copyright one (copyright is very specifically defined and a separate issue) and almost never successful. Even the very famous cases (against Stephen King and MZB) are mainly famously for being brought unsuccessfully by crazy people. So yeah, it has happened, but so has being struck by lightning from a clear blue sky.
In the real world these things are rare, and in writing groups almost non-existent. I very rarely meet published authors who give it very much thought to all.
Professors at the University of Memphis definitely did punish plagiarizers. The syllabus each instructor gave placed special emphasis on this. The Department of Education at the U of M stressed researching and documentation. Since it was very easy to use software that would search for plagiarism; it was done quite regularly.
Some institutions call it "Academic Integrity" (Roosevelt University) and issue Student Handbooks making them aware of the consequences of such behavior. It would definitely be a pity if this integrity was not extended beyond "ivory walls." But this might give a glimpse of some people's characters as well.
That's because students without any writing abilities may try to commit plagiarism to complete a paper.
Also, articles and scholarly papers are more often plagiarized.
Also, the idea is only maybe 1% or less of what goes into a novel and maybe 5% or less of what goes into a short story. Ideas are less than a dime a dozen.
If you want a laugh and a half, check out writing gigs on craigslist where people think they're being super generous with a gig like, "I'll let you write a novel using my ideas and give you ten percent of the profit."
Ideas are so easy to come by without the use of nefarious means that since I started writing down most of my ideas for novels about two years ago I've collected a bunch. I've got about three hundred novels plotted out in a folder on my desktop. I have dozens more ideas I haven't sat down and considered carefully enough to plot out. There's not a chance I'll ever write them all. I've even considered standardizing my plot outline format and publishing them as books of ideas by genre.
That's a cool idea, Kylyssa - publishing a book of ideas. Why not? Quick and easy to do, and I should think very easy to promote and sell.
It's likely I'll do it because there's so much raw material I've generated for it. Each plot has anywhere from three to twelve pages to it, briefly outlining what happens in each chapter. I've written them out in a rather varied, almost random fashion so editing them until they are shorter, readable by normal humans, and share a format is going to be a big task. I should get on it because that's a lot of material to let go to waste and some of the ideas might become dated.
The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) has a code of ethics that states that their members will: “Be Honest, Be Loyal, Be Fair and Be Competent.” Integrity is important in any profession.
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