This is more of a meta question, but I think it pertains to the subject of worldbuilding in a very important way.

Legally speaking, is there any true way to protect an idea? If someone were to put together a wiki or imgur album detailing and describing their world, is there anything in place that protects the author and gives him/her "rights" to the ideas presented?

I understand how it would be hard to protect something like an idea, given that it's not tangible, but I assume there has to be some really basic protection? If someone wants to one day write a novel/movie/videogame set in their world, are they better off keeping those ideas to themselves until the day comes that they can legitimize their idea in some tangible form (such as a novel/movie/videogame)?


closed as off-topic by bilbo_pingouin, Frostfyre, James, HDE 226868, bowlturner Dec 7 '15 at 22:30

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – bilbo_pingouin, Frostfyre, James, HDE 226868, bowlturner
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You might try looking up copyright law for your country of choice. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Dec 7 '15 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ I understand the importance of the question, but I think it does not fit well here. Law SE would probably be a better choice. To answer briefly though, Depending on the idea/form, etc. There are various ways to protect your Intellectual Properties. Most common are Patents (for technological ideas) or Copyright. In the case of a world, you'd need to define a given copyright, typically with a notice (see at the bottom of the page). But it has happened that people did not respects those. It is then a judicial battle. Google: "copyright madness", "patent wars". $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Dec 7 '15 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely not in our society. In a future dystopian world where every thought is monitored it might exist. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 7 '15 at 21:55

First: I am not a lawyer and anything dealing with law you should only trust an actual lawyer (who will then extort--I mean, bill--you for a lot of money because he is paid to do his job and can charge pretty much whatever he wants).

That said, the last time I checked on Intellectual Property Law, simply making the thing causes it to be protected (consult your lawyer). The standard suggestion of "registering" the idea is to write it down and post (snail mail) it to yourself, so that it is dated with a date sometime shortly after the creation.

In the digital realm, a wiki or imgur album will track these sorts of dates as well (consult your lawyer), so in the event that your idea is stolen you will have proof that "yes, I did it first, see?" Keep in mind that it is generally difficult to show that their creation wasn't independent of yours (but not always true!) and it will cost a lot of money (see lawyers, above) to litigate. At least, up front. If you win, it might work out, on the other hand it might not (consult your lawyer).

  • $\begingroup$ I thought certified mail was not considered as a valid timestamp because some one can mail themselves an empty envelope, and then put something in it. (Steam it open, etc) $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Dec 7 '15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Entirely possible. This is why the OP should consult a lawyer. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Dec 7 '15 at 21:01

This isn't something you actually want.

For the US, copyright law says the following:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

You can't copyright an idea, for good reason. I'd be willing to bet that no matter what your idea is, it's not purely original. Your idea almost certainly contains what could be considered derivative works at one level or another. Your world has mages that summon ice cream? Sorry, that's simply a derivative of any idea containing magic user summoning food items, which themselves were derivative ideas of fictional characters performing impossible things, which is simply a derivative (due to the deliberately opposite nature) of a normal character doing a normal thing.

It gets ridiculous and meaningless quite quickly when you try to protect something as intangible as an idea.

So, no, you can't protect your idea. But that's not where people make their living as authors or story tellers. It's in the implementation. The words you use to tell the story and the way it all comes together is something you can protect. Ideas are worthless without implementation.

Ultimately, you'd be better off sharing the ideas you have for your world, especially on a site like Worldbuilding, because what you're going to get in return is a whole bunch more free ideas and refinements to your original idea.


There are many results for this question on the internet, such as this blog and also this one. The short version is:

The idea itself—”boy befriends lost chupacabra”—is not yours. Even if you discussed it with people… you DO NOT OWN THE IDEA. You own only your execution.

If you simplify your idea enough, you can find some one else who has already used it. These bullet points are from the first blog link.

The specific expression (embodiment) of your idea is copyrightable.

  • Screenplays
  • TV pilots
  • Novels
  • Plays
  • Blogs

Ideas themselves are not copyrightable.

  • Loglines
  • Verbal pitches
  • Core concepts
  • Character notions
  • Plot devices
  • Themes
  • Titles

Thinking about plot devices, you can find many already mapped out and named over at TVtropes


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