I was out doing errands t’other day (including a visit to the Tax Office to get my German contracts stamped—thank you, Niki). At one of my stops the fact of my being a writer came up and the bloke behind the counter said, “Really? You know, I have this great idea. If I give it to you, and you write the book, you can keep half the profits.”
My mouth opened. My mouth closed. See, I’ve heard other writers talk about non-writers making that offer, but I’ve never actually had it made to me so I didn’t have an answered prepared. I stammered something about being grateful for the offer, but that I have a tonne of ideas of my own, thanks all the same.
Ideas are no big deal. I have a gazillion ideas every day. Oodles of the little buggers. But without labour an idea is nothing. Unless I sit down and type for several months and turn a bunch of ideas into a book, those ideas are worthless. Their only value is in what’s done with them. Lots of people have ideas for books; not that many write them.
Scott and me were talking about the inflated value many people give ideas. And Scott wondered if that was partly behind the ever-growing insane obsession with copyright (like the Canadian Red Cross trying to copyright the Red Cross symbol). And the notion so many people have that ideas can be stolen. That rewriting an earlier story is somehow plagiarism (that’s right, Shakespeare was a plaigarist, and James Joyce, Jean Rhys, and just about any other writer you care to name).
Some are unable to make a distinction between riffing on something and stealing. If someone were to write a book about a girl who a finds a door that leads from Sydney and New York City and has adventures. I would not be bothered. Not unless the characters bore an uncanny resemblance to Magic or Madness and large chunks of the book were word-for-word the same as mine. Plagiarising means to take some one else’s work and pass it off as your own. Taking credit for someone else’s labour is wrong; riffing on someone else’s ideas is what writers/comedians/artists/musicians etc. etc. do. That’s their job.
Which leads me to Cory Doctorow’s fabulous post on BoingBoing about the publishing industries ludicrous efforts to stop Google’s fabulous Book Search which would make said riffing so much easier. What he said.