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What kind of problems (if any) might I have with copyright laws when keeping story notes and some or all of my writing on cloud based storage such as Google drive? How might this affect future publication?

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Any writing that you make available to the general public (whether anyone reads it or not) is published. That will prevent you from selling various "first" rights, which is what publishers typically want.

If you haven't made it public, don't worry about it. Google Drive is just storage.

As for the notes... You own the copyright to those, too, but those are not the thing you'll be licensing to publishers. If you make the notes public, and they include substantial chunks of the text of the manuscript, that might cause a problem when you shop the manuscript.

If your notes are mostly ideas for the story, and not the text of the story, that's fine. You can't copyright ideas. Only a particular expression of those ideas.

  • Thanks for your great answer! It helps clear up a lot. Do you happen to know if there are problems with ownership of the content with the cloud services? Such as caveats in the terms of use that might cause me to unwittingly give up some or all of my right to the content? – user2859458 Jul 24 '15 at 22:04
  • You would need a lawyer to determine that for certain. People often get up in arms about some online service or other requesting the right to copy users' stuff, but usually it's expressly to give the service permission to do what the user is using the service for. A cloud storage service, for example, needs your permission to store your stuff, and to present it back to you. Other kinds of online services--such as social media sites--are a whole nuther kettle of bees. If you're concerned, consult a lawyer. In any event, read the agreement you're agreeing to. – Dale Hartley Emery Jul 24 '15 at 22:08
  • "As for the notes... You own the copyright to those, too" In the USA, *originality is a prerequisite for copyrightability, in the UK "sweat of the brow", that is time and effort, is sufficient. German speaking countries are similar to the US in that copyright requires a certain "threshold of originality". It is therefore not clear wether or note those notes are copyrightable and you'd better keep them private. – user5645 Jul 25 '15 at 6:50
  • @what If by "story notes" the OP means notes that he has written for future writing projects, they would be unlikely to fail the copyright originality test. In the classic case on the subject, the court ruled that a phone book failed the originality test because the idea of listing all the people in a geographic region who have phones in alphabetical order was too obvious to be considered original. Notes about a story you plan to write would almost surely pass this test unless it was so generic as to be useless, like if the total content of the notes was "write a romance novel". – Jay Jul 28 '15 at 21:09
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Google Drive's terms state:

“You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”

https://support.google.com/docs/answer/2733115

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In general, the form or medium or location in which you keep your writing has nothing to do with your copyright. Whether you write documents with a pencil and keep them in a drawer or save them electronically on your personal computer or on the Internet or chisel them into stone tablets and hide them in a cave, your copyright rights are the same.

If you send your writing to someone with the understanding that they will publish it, of course that's a different category. Then they're not just storing it, they're publishing.

I suppose if you are using any sort of service where someone else has access to your writing in any manner, it makes sense to check any agreements before you sign them.

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