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"Ownership" of ideas

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
I saw this on the BMR site rules (emphasis mine):
12. Plagiarism (the copying of another member's content, includes writing, art, and Request Threads/plot ideas, and claiming them as your own) is not tolerated. This includes posting ideas from other members that you acknowledge are not your own, but that you do not have permission to use.
And it made me think about the concept of "owning" an idea. Please be aware that it is not intended to be a discussion about BMR rules but rather about general principles.

Personally, I find the idea that ideas can be owned (pun not intended) strange. According to various "intellectual property" laws, an idea cannot be trademarked, it cannot be patented (although an implementation of it can be), and it cannot be copyrighted (although a specific description of it can be).

I would say that ideas are cheap, it's the execution that counts. The idea behind a story, even a masterpiece, is usually quite simple and can be expressed in a couple of sentences. There were stories about star-struck lovers from feuding clans before and after Romeo and Juliet, and Harry Potter wasn't the first nor the last story about the tribulations of students in a magic school. I would even go as far as to say that plot ideas are seldom completely original, since no writer creates in a vacuum and influences abound.

With that in mind, and given that fiction has been written for over 4000 years (and passed down orally since way before that), it is also very improbable that any plot idea could not independently occur to several people. Therefore the notion that a person "owns" and idea and needs to give permission for others to use it feels wrong to me.

Incidentally, I see a number of threads where people share plot ideas on the other site, so obviously not everybody is possessive of their ideas, and I wonder what makes the ones that do feel this way? Is it insecurity? Are they concerned that "better" role players will poach their prospective partners?

What is your take on the subject?
(Please keep it civil and respectful)
 
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WrittenFantasies

I’m a ten amongst these threes.
Joined
Sep 30, 2015
Good question.

I have come across plenty of request threads where I like particular ideas butI don’t think I’ll click with the person writing them. Do I always ask if I can use their idea, no. But I do make a point to change it in major ways so that its not blatantly the same.

Now I have seen the same exact idea on multiple threads before but who knows if it’s the same person with different accounts using that idea.

I feel like as long as you aren’t copying and pasting the idea frok someone else’s thread to yours, you’re golden.

But I do think most people say no you can’t have this idea because they feel like you might find a partner before they do.
 
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Taelir

Unpowered, the machine cannot function
Joined
Nov 2, 2016
Location
USA
Beyond copying someone's plot word for word, spelling and grammar errors fully intact, it doesn't seem like a very enforceable rule for the very reasons put out by OP. As to why people feel a rule is necessary, I tend to agree with the notion that folks are insecure for the most part, that they feel like taking an idea is taking their potential partners and is like saying "I want to play this, but not with you." I know I've seen ideas I liked on lists from folks who wanted drastically different outcomes than I would want to play out, so I altered them to fit my tastes.

That said I'm also sure some folks simply don't understand that they don't lawfully own ideas and don't understand plagiarism.
 

Virginia Greene

let's fight the moon
Staff member
Administrator
Joined
Jan 11, 2016
Location
Pacific Northwest
Beyond copying someone's plot word for word, spelling and grammar errors fully intact, it doesn't seem like a very enforceable rule for the very reasons put out by OP.
Direct or near direct copy/pasting of plots (or search thread rules/intros, or on rare occasion whole search threads) is usually what we run into- if people make minor changes like swapping the word "father" for "dad" and saying something takes place at a ski resort instead of a beach but there are two paragraphs worth of nearly or fully identical content, chances are the user is going to be spoken to. If someone sees a plot and they like the idea of it so they write out their own version with changes that suit their tastes and work better for them, that's unlikely to be an issue of plagiarism.

There are also a lot of standard story beats that get used quite often and that gets taken into account as well. We do rarely run into this as an issue, because most people want their story to work just right for them and so they're taking inspiration and making ideas of their own.
 

skyfetcher

Innocent™
Joined
Sep 17, 2019
Location
A high horse. Tall, sharp horse.
I honestly think if someone wants to take another short synopsis, let alone generic plot word for word in their own roleplay pitch, it's no more a bad thing than people who are big on fandoms. The idea is generally one thing, and the content is another. I do think there's a line to be drawn when it's something that's more 'intellectual property', ie, someone's spin of worldbuilding when compared to just a pitch of an idea that could be done by just about anyone, anywhere.

What I would advocate action on is more lenient than what I believe to be actual plagiarism, and both I would be lenient about to a point. After all, roleplay's niche is people putting an individual spin on ideas that are almost guaranteed (I argue, outright certain to various extent) to have been done before, and probably many times. The way it's done is something I'd be more strict to protect, especially characters built up, individual details and execution of the story. But even then I'd be a mild hypocrite since I make an exception for canon characters in media, and am not alone in that.

For me there's also 'okay that's cool, I want to explore that line of thought too' vs 'looks catchy, lemme just lift this, should get people'. The line can be thin and hard to assess. One's way more excusable than the other. That said with the way the site rule is worded, rephrasing would probably do the job anyways. Clearly the policy isn't to throw the book at just anyone. Outright stealing text, especially if it is detailed leaves a really poor mark on the person doing it. Imo those people punish themselves in the end though - the lack of creative integrity is really hard to hide once they're challenged to see it through.

I tend to agree with the notion that folks are insecure for the most part, that they feel like taking an idea is taking their potential partners and is like saying "I want to play this, but not with you."
Probably a big part of it. At the risk of sounding like a dick, sometimes they'd be right. The ideas stick and genuinely have potential, but I don't believe I'd get along with the person behind the screen. I know others feel the same about me at least sometimes. In that case, more power to them - at least something inspiring came of it...
 

obieblu

Star
Joined
Aug 27, 2019
Location
Shanghai, China
The only plots I 'copy' are ones where I got ghosted, but I still really want to write a story like that. And for those, I quote that portion of their RT, if it's on the same forum, to cover all my bases of crediting the source. If it was a ghost on another forum, I just list it as "I want to try this again". Still, my time was used up planning with them and making my characters for their story and playing out their story with them for a certain period of time. Am I not entitled to some degree of 'ownership' of what we built together after my investment? I agree that people shouldn't be copy/pasting what someone else wrote in their RT, the idea of proving ownership of a trope is pretty laughable. I think the copy/paste thing is the only really punishable offense.

This is such a microcosmic policy, anyways. I think it's purely to prevent flame wars between users. There's no way to enforce cross-forum plagiarizing, even with so many people on multiple forums. And the amount of art being used for face claims, a good deal of it is guaranteed to have been made by artists who don't want it being posted publicly without crediting them, and many others specifically say not to use it for RP.

This policy is really just "Don't copy/paste from another BlueMoon user's post", even though it's possible they swiped it from somewhere else. They swiped first, they win. I'm a digital designer who had to study copyright law in college and has seen some issues in my career. I have professional standards for these kinds of things 'in the real world', but this BMR policy is very localized and incredibly easy to avoid. Just never C/P from anyone but yourself on here. Simple.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2020
I borrow ideas all the time from anime, games, books, other threads and so on. I personally try to change things up in some way though. To me as a writer that's part of the fun. And it's interesting to see my ideas inspire similar ideas elsewhere, but again remixed a bit. That's just the creative process.

Fully copy pasting is really the plagiarizer's loss IMO.
 

ShyRPer

Star
Joined
Jul 7, 2017
I feel that copying a general idea by another user is fine as long as it isn't word for word that is being copied.
 

P DeRudio

Planetoid
Joined
Jan 31, 2019
Location
Ft. Zinderneuf
fan fiction / fandom skates close to the edge of copyright violation, it is sometimes tolerated by authors and publishers, sometimes not. the wikipedia article on fan fiction explains it well Legal issues with fan fiction - Wikipedia

personally, the idea of invading another writer's canon is lazy and contributes nothing to an author's development as a writer.
 
OP
Lurker

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
personally, the idea of invading another writer's canon is lazy and contributes nothing to an author's development as a writer.
*Shrug*

Many well-known authors have written in others' canons.

For example:
Stephen Donaldson, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven (and others) wrote stories set in Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" universe.
Poul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip José Farmer, A.E. van Vogt, C.J. Cherryh, Steven Brust (and others) wrote in Robert Asprin's "Thieves' World".
Ray Bradbury, Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Harry Turtledove, Frederik Pohl, Poul Anderson, Robert Sheckley, Hal Clement, Harry Harrison, Orson Scott Card (and others) wrote in Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation universe(s).

I would not characterize any of those writers as "lazy".
 

obieblu

Star
Joined
Aug 27, 2019
Location
Shanghai, China
*Shrug*

Many well-known authors have written in others' canons.

For example:
Stephen Donaldson, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven (and others) wrote stories set in Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" universe.
Poul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip José Farmer, A.E. van Vogt, C.J. Cherryh, Steven Brust (and others) wrote in Robert Asprin's "Thieves' World".
Ray Bradbury, Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Harry Turtledove, Frederik Pohl, Poul Anderson, Robert Sheckley, Hal Clement, Harry Harrison, Orson Scott Card (and others) wrote in Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation universe(s).

I would not characterize any of those writers as "lazy".
It's seems to be general agreement that post-Lovecraft authors writing Lovecraftian stories are better authors than Lovecraft was, himself. Certainly less aggressively racist and follow basic literary practices.
 

Seranda

I'm Better Than You.
Joined
Jan 20, 2013
Location
East Coast
If I write out a plot idea that's a detailed couple of paragraphs, with original art I went and looked for, twists and turns I imagined, and a specific set of kinks and direction, I think I would get a little annoyed if someone just copy/pasted it into their Request Thread and I would 100% message the player to see what inspired them to write that, and report it if I could. I get complimented for the variety and detail I offer. That's my work, not yours. Don't take credit for it. At the end of the day how you (the copycat) and I would play the story out is likely very different, but it doesn't take away that you copied someone else's writing and are taking credit for it. Even if they put, a plot by Seranda at the bottom, I'd still be annoyed.

You're not protecting the idea that a knight saves a princess. No anyone can do that.

You're protecting the backstory of the knight, the original artwork you searched for and applied to the blue haired princess, the details that the castle she is locked in is cursed and that at the end of the RP, she absolutely steals the knight's soul and continues to pose as a damsel in distress. That's what you protect, because I thought of that. Not you.
 
OP
Lurker

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
If I write out a plot idea that's a detailed couple of paragraphs, with original art I went and looked for, twists and turns I imagined, and a specific set of kinks and direction, I think I would get a little annoyed if someone just copy/pasted it into their Request Thread and I would 100% message the player to see what inspired them to write that, and report it if I could. I get complimented for the variety and detail I offer. That's my work, not yours. Don't take credit for it. At the end of the day how you (the copycat) and I would play the story out is likely very different, but it doesn't take away that you copied someone else's writing and are taking credit for it. Even if they put, a plot by Seranda at the bottom, I'd still be annoyed.

You're not protecting the idea that a knight saves a princess. No anyone can do that.

You're protecting the backstory of the knight, the original artwork you searched for and applied to the blue haired princess, the details that the castle she is locked in is cursed and that at the end of the RP, she absolutely steals the knight's soul and continues to pose as a damsel in distress. That's what you protect, because I thought of that. Not you.
I understand and can appreciate your points @Seranda, but let me ask you a couple of questions:

Would you be OK with somebody reusing your idea if they rewrote the prompt and used different artwork and different background (or none at all)? The idea of a cursed castle and the "monster pretends to be a damsel in distress" twist, I have seen before. In fact I recall short comic where a knight got past a dragon to rescue a princess, and at the end it was revealed that she was some eldritch horror and the dragon, being unable to kill her, managed to trap her in an enchanted castle that prevented her from escaping, and only guarded it to protect passers-by. That sounds very similar to the plot you just described. Would you be upset if somebody used it as a prompt? Would you report them for it?

What would you say if somebody approached you to RP a specific plot of yours, end up not compatible, and asked to reuse the plot? What if they don't want to play with you for some legitimate reason but still ask to reuse the plot? What they did not post it as a prompt but started a (public) game with another person along those lines?

Thank you!

By the way, your request thread was what prompted me to ask this question. The pinning of the first post does not work well in that case, and if I were in a similar situation I'd ask staff to unpin it.
 
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Seranda

I'm Better Than You.
Joined
Jan 20, 2013
Location
East Coast
I understand and can appreciate your points @Seranda, but let me ask you a couple of questions:

Would you be OK with somebody reusing your idea if they rewrote the prompt and used different artwork and different background (or none at all)?

Sure. It's no longer my idea at that point.

The idea of a cursed castle and the "monster pretends to be a damsel in distress" twist, I have seen before.

I'd be very excited to see a plot that hasn't been inspired by something somewhere that someone knows about. Zombies, superheroes, incest, taboo, spies, action, something inspires these ideas. So anyone at any point can say, "I've seen that before." I can have a zombie RP with X guy and have it be ten million times different than Z guy.

Would you be upset if somebody used it as a prompt? Would you report them for it?

If my writing is being presented as their own, yes. Write your own stuff.

What would you say if somebody approached you to RP a specific plot of yours, end up not compatible, and asked to reuse the plot? What if they don't want to play with you for some legitimate reason but still ask to reuse the plot? What they did not post it as a prompt but started a (public) game with another person along those lines?

If my writing is being presented as their own, yes. Write your own stuff.

Thank you!

By the way, your request thread was what prompted me to ask this question. The pinning of the first post does not work well in that case, and if I were in a similar situation I'd ask staff to unpin it.

I don't understand how the first post being pinned doesn't work well in that situation. If you care to explain that, you can PM me or something. I see no issue with it, interested to hear your concerns.
^
 
OP
Lurker

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
Sure. It's no longer my idea at that point.
I think that we are in agreement, just using different terminology. I use the term "idea" to refer to the general concept (e.g., "knight wants to rescue a princess only to find out that the castle is cursed and the princess is a soul-sucking monster") while you seem to use it to refer to the concrete representation of said concept.
 

P DeRudio

Planetoid
Joined
Jan 31, 2019
Location
Ft. Zinderneuf
<shrug>

The well known authors who publish works in each other's universes are doing that by permission and not violating any copyright. If a writer does parodies or pastiches, or takes someone's original ideas and produces a transformative work, the writing stays within fair use rules and does not violate copyright. Ideas are not protected by copyright, the expression of ideas is. Fan fiction, even when well written, is usually derivative which does violate copyright and is lazy writing. Some professional writers do not mind fan fiction others do. MZB was originally a fan of fan fiction but later her problems with fan fiction and the inability to publish her own novel because of similarities to fan fiction are legendary.

@obieblu: most of Lovecraft is now public domain.
 

obieblu

Star
Joined
Aug 27, 2019
Location
Shanghai, China
@obieblu: most of Lovecraft is now public domain.
Legality isn't relevant to my point, which was backing up Lurker rebutting that writing in someone else's universe is inherently lazy and of no value to the author or reader. I'm well-aware that HP encouraged what was basically fanfiction of his work. (I've done a lot of reading about him recently both because of the explosion of awareness of his intense levels of racism as well as reading analyses of the new 'Lovecraft Country'.) This is a comically-insulting instruction on how to write like him. All in all, the more prolific writers of his universe tend to have superior writing skills to his own and have vastly outsold him. His legacy is far more impressive than his barely meager success as an author. I think that Lovecraft is a huge counter-argument to that writing in someone else's universe is inherently bad, shameful, or [any other negative sentiment].
 

SimplePleasures

Meteorite
Joined
Jan 3, 2017
It always struck me as odd that in a medium built on collaboration, some folks cling tightly to the ideas that they've come up with. I don't think it is a controversial opinion that not everyone will make for a good partner, even when kinks line up. That shouldn't mean we can't appreciate one another's good ideas!

That being said, I can definitely see that it would be polite to reach out and ask if an idea can be taken, borrowed or expanded upon. I have to imagine most folks would be happy to rubberstamp such a request!
 

BreezinBy

Alleged Writer
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
Location
The darkest regions of your mind
Fan fiction, even when well written, is usually derivative which does violate copyright and is lazy writing.
I actually don't get this part of it at all. I mean it's just weird to assume working within an established universe which is not your own is inherently lazy. Of course, writers shouldn't only work in established universes, I will not dispute that, but to assume that all of it is lazy? What is lazy about working within someone else's framework? That you didn't build it? Well, I suppose we should stop adapting stories about myths then, none of us wrote the world in which those exist. This is not to say they hold the same weight or importance to the world but this logic of "it's bad because this is not your own" is...honestly baffling? Half of the literary canon is people retelling stories that are not their own.
 
OP
Lurker

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
Writing in another writer's universe is easier in the sense that it takes care of many little details for you.
Writing in another writer's universe is more difficult in the sense that it puts constraints on what you can do.
 

P DeRudio

Planetoid
Joined
Jan 31, 2019
Location
Ft. Zinderneuf
Legality isn't relevant to my point, which was backing up Lurker rebutting that writing in someone else's universe is inherently lazy and of no value to the author or reader. I'm well-aware that HP encouraged what was basically fanfiction of his work. (I've done a lot of reading about him recently both because of the explosion of awareness of his intense levels of racism as well as reading analyses of the new 'Lovecraft Country'.) This is a comically-insulting instruction on how to write like him. All in all, the more prolific writers of his universe tend to have superior writing skills to his own and have vastly outsold him. His legacy is far more impressive than his barely meager success as an author. I think that Lovecraft is a huge counter-argument to that writing in someone else's universe is inherently bad, shameful, or [any other negative sentiment].
I didn't say it was useless or inherently of no value, I said it was lazy. Details are taken care of, that does make it easy, but it also makes it derivative and I'd guess that 95% of people who want to set a story in the, let's say, Harry Potter fandom are not interested in transformative works, they want, for example, to bend Hermione over a sawhorse or turn Harry into a female dwark. The Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings and Adam Roberts' The Soddit are very different, they are parodies (the latter more of a pastiche) of Tolkien but they are not copyright infringing.

I get why it's done, it moves stories along in sites like BM, the consequences are basically nonexistent (but not always, if you're MZB), many, many published writers got their start in fanfiction or in playing in someone's sandbox, and there is well written fanfiction. You cannot own ideas, but you can own how ideas are presented. So for an author's development as an author write about elves and magic if that's your preference, but writing about Galdalf the Grey and hobbits is lazy and will not get you published.

The plot donation thread suggested by Lurker is a good idea. There's something like that on Literotica where ideas are batted around
 
OP
Lurker

Lurker

Goofball
Joined
Mar 14, 2015
Location
A magical fantasy
I didn't say it was useless or inherently of no value, I said it was lazy. Details are taken care of, that does make it easy, but it also makes it derivative and I'd guess that 95% of people who want to set a story in the, let's say, Harry Potter fandom are not interested in transformative works, they want, for example, to bend Hermione over a sawhorse or turn Harry into a female dwark. The Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings and Adam Roberts' The Soddit are very different, they are parodies (the latter more of a pastiche) of Tolkien but they are not copyright infringing.
You are conflating two completely unrelated concepts: copyright and laziness.

Firstly, whether a work is infringing or not has absolutely no bearing on the laziness its writer. Or are you claiming that if I write a derivative of The Lord of the Rings, I am being lazy, but if I obtain the blessing of the Tolkien's estate just prior to publishing it then suddenly I was not? Or does it only works if I obtain permission in advance, regardless if I write the exact same thing?

So now that we have cleared that up, please look at the list of authors in my post above and tell me which one of them do you accuse of being lazy?

The plot donation thread suggested by Lurker is a good idea. There's something like that on Literotica where ideas are batted around
I will start it then. Stay tuned...
 
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