exchange of ideas

You can’t own an idea

Why is it that we writers are so prone to the thinking that we own an idea? For some reason that is lost on me, writers seem to be particularly prone to worrying about people stealing their ideas.

There may be bragging rights for being the first person to do something. Should that necessarily mean that you must be the only person to ever do that thing? No. The world simply does not work this way.

Ideas vs implementation of ideas

The fact is, you cannot – no matter how hard you try – own an idea. You can, however, own what you do with that idea.

A boy with a scar, an owl, and a destiny is an idea. J. K. Rowling implemented that idea and wrote Harry Potter. She was not the first to do so. Neil Gaiman did the same thing with The Books of Magic for DC in the early 90s.

There is nothing stopping you from writing a series about a boy with a scar, an owl, and a destiny. You might have a hard time selling it – because Gaiman and Rowling dominate in their respective fields – but the idea itself is not owned by anyone.

You own what you do with an idea

cat and dogOut of Apple, Microsoft, and the many Linux foundations, no one owns the idea of a computer operating system. Each of these groups can and does own (and maintain) their implementation of the idea of an OS. Each one is as different from the next as cats are from dogs.

No one in their right mind would try to claim that Ubuntu stole the idea of a graphical interfaced operating system from Microsoft (Windows). Geeks may debate the comparative merits of the two. And why not? After all, an idea is nothing unless you act on it.

Ideas want to spread

Seth Godin, a wildly successful author, says ideas that spread win. And it’s true.

Star Wars isn’t successful because the science makes sense. Star Wars is a wide world global phenomena because the people that love it can’t stop talking about it. The idea of Star Wars has spread.

so much so that you can’t sell a story set in space with laser swords because everyone thinks you are just knocking off Star Wars. George Lucus implemented that idea so well that he filled that idea space up. He does not own the idea of laser swords – he doesn’t even own Star Wars anymore; Disney does.

To quote George Bernard Shaw:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

Here is Seth Godin talking about how to get an idea to spread.

You can’t control an idea

Ideas want to be free. Ideas want to spread. Ideas are wild – you cannot own an idea, nor can you control one.

Brian D. Evans, the Founder of Influencive argues that, far from owning an idea, you are the host of that idea. Fail to put it into action and the idea will find someone else.

may the muse be with youThat’s what we’ve been saying with our Muse designs. When the Muse is whispering ideas to you – work with that.

You can’t own an idea; you own what you do with it.

Back in 2012, Samsung and Apple had a huge ding-up in court over this very point. The mistaken notion that anyone truly owns an idea had to come to, very expensive, blows before these technology giants got the message.

Which is why it still confuses me when I see people trying to control an idea. If you think you can own an idea, you might as well sit on the beach and yell at the tide for all the good that will do you.

The strange case of trying to own the ineffable

I call attempts to be the sole “owner” of an idea a case of trying to own the ineffable.

Ideas: They can’t be effed.

The strange case of trying to own the ineffable appears to be a truly Thanet-centric idea among writers. Not all writers. Quite possibly, only a few writers. Maybe just one. But the attempt itself has the potential to be very damaging to local creativity.

While I have my own ideas about who is behind this King Canute like effort, it would be better not to cast needless aspersions. Instead, let us call us call this person or group, The Thanet Canute.

The Thanet Canute

Canute rebukes his courtiersThe Thanet Canute things he can own an idea. Not just any idea, but the idea of the grassroots writer and author groups in Thanet.


No, I have no idea what he hopes to gain from turning to the dark side of The Muse. But try The Thanet Canute is.

Thanet Creative changed names from Thanet Creative Writers in part to work around the fact that The Thanet Canute purchased every domain name for our name that he could find.

We’re not the only ones either. It seems that The Thanet Canute sat down and came up with every synonym for “writer” and paired it with “Thanet” and made an empty Facebook page. Apparently just to deny anyone else the chance to have a custom Facebook URL if they happen to be passionate about writing and come from Thanet.

I kid you not.

Maybe someone should tell The Thanet Canute that you cannot own an idea. You can take all the obvious names for an idea but that will not stop the muse.

Don’t be like The Thanet Canute. Stay away from the dark side. Let your ideas be free.

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