Hey! Gimme Back My Idea!

At the recent Mythcon in Dallas, I gave a talk called “Doing What the Inklings Did: Practical Advice for Writing Groups.” I talked about different kinds of writing groups (critique groups, mentoring groups, network groups, fellowship groups, prayer groups) that can be of benefit to creative people, and I talked about the nuts and bolts of making a critique group work.

Afterwards, I received an email from one of the attendees. Brian had a great observation:

I enjoyed your presentation at Mythcon about writers groups and thought you might be interested in a point someone brought up related to ours. One of our member’s parents are music publishers in Nashville, and they pointed out that in today’s litigious culture, groups like ours should probably consider having members sign agreements on what is considered fair game for use in publications and what is not. If you don’t you always run the risk of someone suing a successful author claiming that he/she used an idea from the group discussion that the plaintiff originated.

The father mentioned the example of a famous song by Bill Gaither (I can’t remember which) that he wrote after being inspired by a sermon. When the song made millions, they had to go back and sort out which lines were primarily the preacher’s and which were Gaither’s when the preacher sued for a portion of the royalties.

I hate to say it, but it makes good sense, to me at least. We’re planning on working up an agreement where any specific works shared with the group are each author’s property and can only be used with written permission, but any oral critiques offered to the group as a whole become free for use.

What do you think? Have you had any experiences with members of a writers group quarreling over who owned an idea? Has your group created any kind of written agreement? Or do you wish they had?

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