How Do I Protect My Work? Won’t People Steal My Great Idea?

This is a question I get from almost every first-time author and product creator, especially those new to the world of entrepreneurship. While it’s true on the very rare occasion an idea is swiped, it rarely happens. If you’re concerned about your idea’s “safety” while in the hands of team members who may be helping you bring it to life, here are some things you can do to feel more comfortable about sharing your work:

Only Give it to People You Trust

Really, it’s that simple. The hard truth is, it’s a lot harder for someone to rip off your idea than you might think. First of all, you can easily trace it to them because you know them. And secondly, you know how much work you’ve put into your idea. Do you really think someone’s going to take it if it takes them that much work to put together themselves? Do yourself a favor. Take a deep breath and trust someone.

Understand Professionals

People like me wouldn’t be in business if we made a habit of stealing other people’s work. If you’re working with professionals in the industry who make helping people like you bring your ideas into reality their full-time living, they know they’ll lose their entire business if they rip off their clients. The same holds true of a professionally-led team. Most team members of a firm you hire won’t have time to steal the clients’ work—they’re too busy working on it and their own ideas. They also know they’d probably lose their jobs if they show any signs of dishonesty.

Get an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement)

If you’re still shaky about handing off your life’s work to a professional who wouldn’t dare “steal” it, or if you want a particular person’s help who you’re not absolutely sure you can trust, ask them if they’ll sign an NDA. This agreement between you and them gives you added protection for anything you send to them to review, edit or produce.

Poor Man’s Copyright

If you’re working on illustrations, designs, formulas or a book, print out your work and mail it to yourself through the Postal Service… and don’t ever open it. The date stamp and seal on that envelope is called “poor man’s copyright.” It’s not as legally sound as a registered copyright through the U.S. Copyright office, but it works for the interim between when your idea is finished and your final product is produced. For many reasons, you should not file the official copyright with the copyright office until your product is in your hands, but until then “poor man’s copyright” will serve your protection needs well.

Remember that according to U.S. copyright law, as soon as you pen words to paper (or computer), those words are technically protected. If you keep good records of all your drafts of your project, have proof you are the one who created it, or if you published portions on your blog or website, your work is protected.

Also keep in mind, ideas as stand-alone thoughts cannot be copyrighted. Neither can book titles, lists or headlines. This is because pretty much every­ idea has been done before. You will have a unique perspective and voice on it, but if there’s any competition in your niche at all, you’re not the first one to come up with that idea. Protecting your copyright to your full work is not a bad thing to do, but you can’t protect your idea by itself.

Photo courtesy Shutterstock, jannoon028

Leave a Comment

  • Warren Whitlock
    November 6, 2012

    You can’t protect the ideas in your book, just the actual words themselves. Copyright is automatic, there’s no reason to mail it to yourself. If you publish on any platform (email attachement, it’s published and copyright. 

    Best bet is to get your prose out. The time you spend worrying about it would be better spents publishing 

    Speaking of stealing, did you see my post about the raging problem of piracy from 1607?

    Yeah.. I said 1607 🙂

  • Phil Simon
    November 6, 2012

    You stole my idea for this post! 🙂