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For a long time now, I have been writing fan fictions based off of the storyline of a board game. I have posted these fan fictions on a website dedicated to the same board game. I am not the only writer doing so.

However, the time will come when I want to publish a real book, and I am finding that my inspiration is flowing from my fan fictions. This is not a problem, as most of them are very removed from the board game. With a little tweaking, I can separate them entirely.

My problem is this: Though I trust my readers, my fan fictions are on the internet, where anyone can walk by and grab them. I have attempted to thwart this by making them PDFs with the copying and printing turned off - but my proofreader can copy and print them just fine.

How can I secure my unofficial fan fictions against plagiarism? The website they are posted on does claim everything on it as copyrighted, but I would like to be doubly sure. If it comes to it, I will have to simply delete the fan fictions. I may have to do so anyway if I begin publishing.

Note: My problem is NOT with copyright. I am drawing only inspiration from these fan fictions, not actual aspects of the game. I want to be sure the plot of my fan fictions cannot be stolen, as they will be similar (similar, not exact) to the published work.

P.S. To be clear: I am not a published author, and these are not fan fictions based off of another author's work. They are based off of a board game storyline. Many others are writing similar fan fictions as well, so it is not a question of getting into trouble with the owners of the game (which is discontinued anyway).

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    I would imagine that deleting them would be the first step – user12678 Jan 17 '15 at 20:21
  • Dale Emery is absolutely correct in his answer when he states that the discontinuation of the board game does NOT forfeit the copyright. Any use of the characters, settings, or other portions of the board game in your writing could cause it to be considered as a derivative work, which would violate their copyright and could possibly put you in jeopardy of being sued. You need to thoroughly research the copyright AND trademarks for the board game before attempting to publish anything. – Steven Drennon Jan 18 '15 at 16:45
  • As I have said, it is not a question of getting into trouble with the owners of the game. I know they still hold the copyright, and I am not about to publish fan fiction as my own. What I said is that I am drawing inspiration from my fan fictions. I want to prevent people from copying the plot. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Jan 19 '15 at 4:41
  • I have revised the OP to hopefully prevent any further confusion. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Jan 19 '15 at 4:47
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If they're on the Internet, someone has a copy of them. They are free now, and you will never have full control of them again.

I won't swear to it, but I think when EL James got her book contract for the Fifty Shades trilogy, she deleted all the posted versions of those stories (which were after all Twilight fanfic). I seem to recall that older versions were available in various online archives (maybe the Wayback Machine), so deleting them from wherever they were hosted didn't make them go away entirely.

The upshot is that once you make something public, there's no way to completely prevent people from accessing it, and once they can access it, they can plagiarize it.

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  • Sorry to somewhat resurrect this matter, but a thought occurred to me. My fan fictions were PDFs. I would provide the link to them, and then the readers could download and read them. They were not posted directly onto the fan-site. The PDFs were hosted on a site owned by me, and I have now removed them. Are they still available to others? – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Jan 24 '15 at 19:21
  • Other than possibly on the Wayback Machine, people can no longer download your PDFs from your site, no. That doesn't prevent people from posting them on other sites, or just emailing them around. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 24 '15 at 19:55
  • I think I'm secure then, aside from those that actually read it. Thanks, Lauren. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Jan 24 '15 at 23:04
  • You mentioned that once people can access it, they can plagiarize it. I have a follow-up question I would like to pose: what can I do about it? It is my understanding that when I create a fan fiction, I am automatically deemed the holder of the copyright. If someone were to plagiarize my work, wouldn't I be able to force them to remove the plagiarized version, taking them to court if I absolutely had to? – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Mar 3 '18 at 1:09
  • @ThomasMyron I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know how copyright law affects "derivative work." You'd have to discuss your options with a legal adviser. My guess it's that it's a question of cost-effectiveness. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Mar 3 '18 at 11:49
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If your work is visible to the public, you cannot prevent plagiarism.

You could reduce the likelihood of plagiarism by posting your work on a site that is protected by a password (and perhaps a user agreement). But this also reduces availability.

You can perhaps increase your chances of detecting plagiarism by setting up a Google alert for one or more likely-unique phrases in your text. I have no idea what remedies you might have if you detect plagiarism.

Note: The discontinuation of the game does not terminate the copyright owner's rights. Specifically, it does not give you any right to the material. Unless the copyright owner has explicitly transferred the copyrights to the public, or to some group of people that includes you, you have no right to use the copyrighted material. The only legal way to use the copyrighted material in your fan fiction is to obtain that right from the copyright owner. (I am not a lawyer. I do not know the laws related to fan fiction.)

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You are worrying about the wrong thing. No one wants to steal your stuff. Unpublished fiction on the web is of zero commercial value. There are far more people writing it than there are reading it.

The only people who should worry about being plagiarized are successful authors who are, first, making money, and, second, have a fanbase of people who admire and may want to emulate their work. Only then would anyone have a motive for plagiarizing it.

In other words, your work is not worth stealing until it is published. Once it is published, it is available to anyone who wants to plagiarize it, and the remedies lie in the courts.

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  • I posed this question to Lauren, above, and I'd like to get your take on it as well, since you mentioned the courts in your answer: "I have a follow-up question I would like to pose: what can I do about it? It is my understanding that when I create a fan fiction, I am automatically deemed the holder of the copyright. If someone were to plagiarize my work, wouldn't I be able to force them to remove the plagiarized version, taking them to court if I absolutely had to?" – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Mar 3 '18 at 1:12
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The already posted answers concentrate on the technical aspects. Although I am not a lawyer, I would like to dare to try to write an answer about the legal aspects.

In most parts of the world (at least those parts which follow the Berne Convention), copyright is automatic. The moment you create a creative work, you have exclusive copyright over it. A copyright message is optional. In some countries you can register a copyright for a work at a public institution (usually for money), but this is also optional. Such a registration might help in case of a lawsuit to prove your copyright claim, but when you have another way to prove that you are the author it isn't necessary.

However, the question is if you have the ability to actually enforce your copyright.

First, you need to find out that someone violates your copyright. You can't monitor the whole internet, so the chance that you miss a violation isn't small. You can not fight what you don't know exists.

If you learn of a violation, then the question is if you can actually prevent it.

When the material is hosted by a public platform, they might be cooperative when you contact them, but they might want some kind of proof that you are the actual copyright holder.

When the platform is uncooperative or the plagiarist is hosting it on their own domain, you might think about publicly shaming them. Don't! It will just call even more attention to the plagiarism and will make you look like a drama queen/king.

So all that is left is to get a lawyer and sue. But copyright lawyers don't work for free and they want their money in advance. When there is a lawsuit (such cases are often settled outside of court) and when you win, there is a chance that your cost must be paid by the defendant, but you shouldn't bet on it. Also hope that the person you want to sue is in the same country you are. International lawsuits can get very complicated. So when your fanfiction is just a non-commercial hobby for you, pressing legal charges might not be worth it.

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As has been noted, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Once it's on the Internet, there is no way to ensure that it's removed.

Yes, you do have a legal right to require anyone who posts your work without authorization to remove the work. Having a right to do something and having a practical ability to do something are two very different things, however. Studios have a right to prevent distribution of their films and yet you can download almost any film you want with a few minutes of searching. If someone like Disney, with legions of lawyers, can't keep their works secure, what chance do you have? Who are you going to take to court when your work is up on bit torrent?

A larger question is: why are you concerned about it? Is it merely your sense of pride and ownership would be offended? Or are you more concerned about the practical impact? If the former, I'd recommend accepting the existence of things you cannot change and get on with your life. If the latter, what exactly concerns you? There is very little evidence that online sharing significantly impacts sales in most instances. Studies suggests that most people who download or view a copyrighted work online would not have purchased it if it wasn't available for free. There's even some evidence that piracy helps create fans who sometimes go out to purchase other works. Note that I am NOT defending the practice. It is immoral and it is illegal. It is wrong. Period. Full stop. But it is also unstoppable and the time you spend fretting over it as an IP owner can undoubtedly be spent on more productive things.

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  • The concern is more about plagiarism than anything else - someone using skills I have taken years to learn, and using them for their own advantage by altering my work and distributing it as their own. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron May 17 '18 at 17:16

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