I am a part semi-professional writer. I usually write articles/column for newspapers, stories for magazines and blog posts on websites. I have also written and published a fictional novel that I started years back as a teenager (didn't do to well in the market though).

I recently started a young adult novel with a plot that I derived from some real life incidences. However, as I neared my conclusion, I realized that a novel with an almost similar story and plotting already exist in the market. Surprisingly the stories are so identical!

Now, I am very much concern about it. I mean I have invested so much of my time in achieving 40k words and scrapping it away doesn't make sense. Neither can I ignore the fact that its publication won't benefit me much monetarily and more than that, I am not sure of its legal implications.

Am I at a deadlock?

EDIT: please note that I am not talking about using exact same words. I am simply talking about an astonishing similarity in the story structure and plot. OKAY I AM ADDING SOME MORE SENSE IN MY QUESTION : I wrote a book about a a guy who hails from a poor family. He couldn't get his degree due to financial restraints. But he becomes a software engineer (self-taught). The same thing happens in the other story. In my story the Guy loses his faith in God and refuses to credit God. Same happens in the other story. My character falls in love with a well educated woman but the relation doesn't work because the guy is realistic while the woman believes in religion. Same goes there... In the end, the guy dies living a full 80 years of complete and happy life with enormous success, survived by a beautiful wife and four children. Happens the same in the other ...... Most astonishing is the fact that My character gives an almost exact reason for his disbelief in God and is well regarded by many, even some religious leaders, as it happens in the other BOook!!! (charater names and ages differs though)

  • Since this is a legal question, you might get better answers on law.stackexchange.com – David Thornley Nov 13 '18 at 22:28
  • The question of "is my work too similar to X?" is definitely a duplicate of the "canonical" question @ArcanistLupus points to. But that's not this question. Aga asks what specific legal concerns there might be. Unless that question has already been asked here, I will vote to leave this one open. – Cyn says make Monica whole Nov 15 '18 at 15:22
  • @Cyn the canonical question does ask about copyright, although none of the answers really address that facet directly. – Arcanist Lupus Nov 15 '18 at 16:49
  • Yeah, it does. But more as a framework. It's not about the legal issues (which go beyond copyright persay). – Cyn says make Monica whole Nov 15 '18 at 17:02

This is a common misunderstanding about copyright.

Copyright does NOT apply to an "idea". Copyright protects the exact words you used to express an idea. If you write a story about a pre-teen boy who learns that he is a wizard and goes off to wizard school and ends up fighting a villain wizard, people may say that your story is unoriginal because it sounds an awful lot like Harry Potter. But unless you copy significant amounts of exact words from the Harry Potter books, you are not violating the writer's copyright. You may be an uncreative hack, but there are no laws against being an uncreative hack.

As long as your book and this other book do not share EXACTLY the same words, you have no problem with copyright.

Perhaps I should add that at the opposite extreme, you can't take an entire novel, change one word, and claim that it is now original. Courts aren't that dumb. They look at how much is copied. There's no hard and fast rule and the courts decide case by case. If your book has 10,000 words out of 15,000 identical to someone else's book, you're in trouble. If you use the phrase "but later" and someone tries to sue you because he also use that same phrase, there's no way he's going to win.

Anyway, if you wrote your story without first having read this other story, the chance that there is any significant duplication of exact words is, well, either you're lying that you hadn't read the other book first, or this is an astounding coincidence. If your book tells the same story as someone else's book but in your own words, there's no copyright issue.

  • 2
    +1, my answer too. If any of your fictional names are the same, even by coincidence, then change them. Unless they are very common names, like Jack or Alice. But in general, do not give a jury any reason to believe you copied. Being similar is not a crime; all kinds of murder mysteries are "very similar" but vary in the specifics. – Amadeus Nov 13 '18 at 22:45
  • It might not always as simple as that. In the Dan Brown case the Justice said "the facts and the themes and the ideas cannot be protected but how those facts, themes and ideas are put together … can be." He added later, "It must be shown that the architecture or structure is substantially copied.". Of course, Leigh and Beigent lost that case, but the Justice does suggest that one can go to far in copying the structure, presumably that being counted as part of the expression of the idea. – Spagirl Nov 14 '18 at 13:25
  • @Spagirl I haven't read the judge's decision, but I read the article you cited. Note key sentence, "Pointing out that copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself, Curtis added, "Brown didn't infringe copyright in the earlier book, he just created a new expression of its idea."" The article makes it sounds as if the judge was at least considering saying that the authors held copyright to the "structure of presenting an idea", something more abstract than actual words. If he had actually ruled that, this would have been a landmark case radically changing copyright law. ... – Jay Nov 14 '18 at 14:02
  • ... I suspect he would have been reversed by a higher court, as this would be VERY radical. But he didn't take the plunge, so I think present interpretation of copyright remains intact. – Jay Nov 14 '18 at 14:03
  • @Amadeus Yes, I should have mentioned that there is a difference between copyright and trademark. If you wrote your own science fiction adventure and called it "Star Wars", and you didn't copy any text from Star Wars, you haven't violated their copyright to the text, but you have violated their trademark in the name. A name or short piece of text, like a slogan, cannot be protected by copyright, but it can be protected by trademark. – Jay Nov 14 '18 at 14:05

This can happen sometimes. Every few years there will be two movies that come out with similar themes --Armageddon and Deep Impact or Capote and Infamous. It's not that the studios wanted to compete head-to-head, it's that they didn't learn about the other project until too late. In this case, it seems likely that your books might both be independently inspired by the same real-life events. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't give any legal opinion, but given that you didn't encounter this other book until nearly finishing yours, the truth, at least, is on your side.

Given that, I would just focus on making your own book as good as it can possibly be, and not worry too much that it has a similar plot and concept to other books out there. There are A LOT of books in print. To quote Samuel Delany, "Nothing survives except fine execution." If your book is strong, there's no reason it can't be a success even if it has similar elements to other books.

@Jay mentioned Harry Potter. Fans of children's fantasy know there were plenty of bullied orphans with secret powers and magical boarding schools before Harry Potter, but for most Rowling fans, there's only one that counts. She had such an impact that even work that predates hers is compared to hers, instead of the other way around.

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