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I have finished my first novel and shared it online with beta readers and those helping me write query letters. I checked Google to see if my very narrow niche market of "biological warfare" spy novel remained uncrowded. Most spy novels usually center around nukes or terrorists, but my specialty niche is about 'Germ Spies'. I was shocked to find there is now one published novel that is basically a version of my own. The published novel used my main protagonist's same name in its title (it is a rare surname with a unique spelling). The plot was indeed about espionage with biological weapons involving Russia, nearly exactly as my own novel. The author posted his novel on Goodreads where it received a single review from a newly created account, and this single review was the only time that account showed any activity. The reviewer also used the exact name of another of my main characters, a name that is very rare.

I have no real way of proving plagiarism of my plot and characters, especially since the other novel is self published, but in science we must disclose 'prior art' pertinent to our invention. My question is, since another author is using my main character's name in his novel with a plot very similar to my own, am I now required to change my characters name to avoid being accused of plagiarizing his work?

  • What are your plans moving forward? Self publishing, aquiring an agent, or pitching directly to publishers? – Arcanist Lupus Apr 1 '18 at 2:59
  • Have you shared your ideas or early dafts with anyone? How closely similar is the narrative? Is it possible that the author of this novel is one of your beta readers and stole your concept or even just rewrote your own early version? If this author is indeed one of those who knew about your own work and you can prove that, it should be possible to prove their plagiarism. – user29032 Apr 1 '18 at 8:18
  • I am currently working on the second volume of a 3 volume series. I prefer to complete the entire set before seeking a publisher. I foolishly shared my plot, characters and sample chapters on Wattpad and other sites in the hope I would get feedback to help improve my novel. I am very precise in my research and reluctant to misstate facts so it takes a very long time for each book. I have already spent 8 years on this project and only competed the first volume, but I have most of the research now completed and am well into my second novel. – Richard Stanzak Apr 1 '18 at 11:33
  • I am not even sure it is plagiarism to steal non-copyrighted characters or plots. If Disney hadn't copyrighted Mickey I am sure nothing would prevent others from having a Mickey and Jerry instead of Tom and Jerry. And Disney's use of Hans Christian Anderson is legal because it was never copyrighted, unlike Disney's versions. Try to reproduce a Disney character without their permission and their lawyers will contact you with a cease and desist letter. Sadly, I believe the fellow simply co-opted my story as his own and I may have to change mine or risk being called a plagiarist of my own ideas. – Richard Stanzak Apr 1 '18 at 11:41
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    Copyright doesn’t apply to general plots or character names. Unless the other work’s actual written words is identical (or nearly so) to yours, plagiarism hasn’t occurred. Change your characters name if you feel that’s necessary. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 2 '18 at 10:25
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Your distribution to beta readers and others could support a copyright claim if they are willing to sign statements indicating they are familiar with your work prior to this self-publishing.

You could pursue a takedown with Goodreads and/or the publisher under the DMCA.

Copyright exists from the moment of creation in the US. You don't need to register it like a patent---registration simply makes it easier to determine the creator and date of creation.

It is probably a good idea to nip this in the bud if you intend to use those characters or that world in the future. Otherwise, this "author" could cite his publication as evidence of "his" copyright.

You should look for legal resources and contact Goodreads immediately. Maybe this will require a lawyer, but maybe it won't get to that point. The important thing is that you retain the right to use those characters, regardless of whether you intend to monetize the existing work.

  • Thanks for the advice. I contacted Goodreads to express my concerns. Hopefully it is simply a coincidence and I can simply change my characters name if it is. – Richard Stanzak Apr 5 '18 at 12:55
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    I would be careful about more than just the names. Plagiarism is a moral issue, and it can be argued on moral grounds---or ignored. Copyright claims are legal issues, and they can prevent publication or distribution of a work---and legal restrictions cannot be ignored. If you intend to publish this series in a traditional manner, I strongly suggest you protect your legal rights as a priority. Personal qualms about conflict or a lax attitude toward plagiarism can cost you the right to your work if the other party really wants to fight. With 8 years of work, I would defend my rights vigorously. – DoubleD Apr 5 '18 at 22:01
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You would need to show that your story is too similar to the offender to be reasonably unlikely that you happened to come up with similar names and plot elements. Again, there was the question posed of how close is his plot to yours... is there ideas that you did not have? If so, how much is a good guestimate to your own.

More importantly, how much of the commonalities could be seen from the Wattpad posts you made? If it's like your post but I never posted that, highly unlikely he stole it from you. The names of characters may have been taken, but that's not worth a hill of beans to proving copyright infringement.

Finally, you also need to prove that this book was written by someone who has a Wattpad account or access during the time you posted the story details. As its central to your accusation that he saw your work and duplicated it for his own profit, you have to prove this accusation.

Copyright does not mean you have to request it, just show you thought of it, as opposed to him. So just because you showed your ideas to others on the internet doesn't mean you can't claim them as your own ideas.

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