Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

A few speaking slots available in 2025

Copyright – words and images, not ideas, titles or cats

Calmness and reason are usually the best way to explain something.

But it is hard when a good writer friend (good writer and good friend) of mine, Debi Gliori, has been the subject of a misguided and unpleasant campaign which has involved attempts to make people believe she has been guilty of a crime, copyright theft. I would now like to be calm and reasonable by introducing some facts about copyright. I’d been planning to blog about the subject anyway, and, unfortunately, I now have a concrete way to illustrate what copyright is, and what it is not.

If you know me, you know my credentials for talking about artistic integrity, writers’ rights (and responsibilities) and copyright. But if you don’t, let me point out a) that I have written quite a few books (some of which required me to ask permission to quote from other books, or use song lyrics) and b) that I was Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland, which required me to be fairly well informed about such matters. I am known as a strong supporter of copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws, and was recently called on by the Copyright Licensing Agency to speak about it in public. I say this only so that you know that I am a strong believer in the need for good copyright laws and condemn their infringement.

Copyright and IP laws exist for a two-way reason. They exist to protect the creator from theft but they also exist to allow creators to create, to catch ideas from wherever they come and to create something new from them.

That is why there is no copyright on ideas or on titles. Fact. (IP laws are called on to distinguish other aspects of what can and can’t be owned or protected and by whom. If necessary, I will call on a good writer friend who is also a practising IP lawyer, to clear up any doubts you may have.)

The next thing to understand is that any artist may paint any subject-matter and any writer may write about anything. (This is not the same as to say that you may write anything: you may not write things that are defamatory, for example. And that includes in blogs, on Twitter or in Facebook comments.)

Once you’ve understood those two things, which are not a matter of opinion but of fact and law, you’ve understood why the whole Tobermory cat shenanigans is so wrong. Not only is there no copyright on ideas or titles, there is no copyright on cats. Did I really just say that?!

But I want to say more than this. It’s about creativity. Creative people are creative not because of where they get their ideas but because of what they do with them. That’s what creativity is; anyone can have an idea but a creator, whether visual or verbal, is someone who creates something new, even if from an old idea. And two people having the same idea will create two different things from it. That’s the beauty of creativity.

It’s not just stories, but non-fiction, too. You could write a piece about copyright, inspired by this blog post, and you could even give it the same title; you’d also be entirely permitted to make the same points, because I do not own the points or ideas. What you mustn’t do, unless you want to break the law and show yourself as uncreative, is copy it (or a substantial part of it) without my permission.  So, you mustn’t use my choice of words. (And yes, of course, there might be some argument about how close your words are to mine, and that’s when a court might need to step in and judge whether you’d copied them or simply accidentally come up with the same wording. That’s hypothetical, by the way – I am most unlikely to sue. I’m too busy and too poor.)

You could ask ten writers to come up with a story about and/or called The Tobermory Cat and they’d all be different. And they could all publish them. It’s not likely that they would, but they could. And it would be hardly surprising if several of them were about the cat becoming a celebrity, since that’s patently what he is; and no one owns the fact that he is a celebrity. You can’t own a fact or an event. In fact, I’m quite tempted to write a story about a celebrity ginger cat called the Tobermory Cat, (because he’s a cat who lives in Tobermory) who becomes so pissed off by things done and spoken in his name, that he slips away in the night and comes to live in Edinburgh, where no one notices him and he lives happily ever after. And you know what: you may use that idea, even without my permission.

The only thing a writer has the rights to is the story he or she wrote. Not the title. And not other stories about the same cat and with the same title. Including stories that haven’t yet been written or imagined.

Is that clear?

People, please respect copyright. Please respect creativity. Ideas are easy: everyone has them. It’s what you do with them that is creativity.

Edited to add: Some trenchant and pertinent comments on this Absolute Write thread. It’s really important to get this stuff right and to spread the word about copyright, to save other people a lot of unnecessary stress on both sides.

Comments: I welcome questions and comments about copyright and IP laws. If I can’t answer them I’ll see if my IP lawyer friend has time. I do not welcome and will not tolerate any further abuse of Debi or any vitriol levelled against either side. This is a post about copyright. It seeks to educate. 

87 Responses

  1. Nicola, thank you for a clear and coherent response to this mess. I hope the person who has been causing Debi Gliori all this trouble reads it closely and takes careful note of what you’ve written: it will save a lot of heartache if he does.

  2. Hi Nicola I need to add copyright to my magazine credit for myself as the concept/design was my own – any suggestions for the wording? Lee

    1. Hi Lee
      Do you mean that you designed/created the magazine itself, but presumably some other people write at least some of the content? (I assume you mean this.) In that case, you don’t exactly copyright the magazine, as you can only have copyright of words and images and some of those would be owned by the people who created them. (Because you should allow them to retain copyright.) So, what you’d be looking at would be trademarking your name and design. First, you need to be able to prove that it is original and the date when you started using the name/logo/design. Then, you’d apply for trademark registration. I can’t remember the name to the office – I did this about 15-20 years ago when i created a things called Magic Readers and it’s probably changed/moved. Btw, you can (as long as you genuinely can prove that you created it first) use the letters TM before getting registration. Only after approval can you use the R sign.

      Does that make sense? If you created all the words and all the images in your magazine, you can just add a “All material copyright [+C symbol] Lee Surname [+YEAR]” but in fact you don’t legally HAHVE to say anything. If you wrote it, it’s your copyright, automatically. But you’d probably want to make that clear, in case someone wants to quote etc.

  3. Nobody but nobody owns the copyright of a cat! Having been involved in a long running copyright saga because people failed to understand you cannot copyright an idea I feel a great deal anger and sympathy for Debi.
    That was a really excellent, plain English explanation. It is something everyone needs to read.

  4. Thank you Nicola, clear, concise and should surely be understood by everybody.

    I have to say I like your idea about a collection of Tobermory Cat stories… though it should be NINE stories, of course!

  5. Thank you so much for this Nicola :)

    I do, however, have a question. As a writer & blogger, I often blog about workshops, author events etc. and often I include in my blog tips from the speaker, or the notes I’ve made. When I’ve really gone indepth about a workshop I have previously asked the author/tutor if I can blog about it (and sent them a copy of my article before it goes live). So my question is….should I always ask permission? Does copyright include the words a tutor/speaker says?

    Thank you :)

    1. Vikki – excellent question and very interesting.

      yes, copyright does include spoken words. However, this raises some issues: specifically, what if, as is likely, you don’t quote exactly? What if you paraphrase and accidentally give a wrong impression? Although you wouldn’t have broken copyright (because you’d paraphrased) you would have abused their “moral rights”, which include the right not to have your words altered to create the wrong impression.

      So, your tactic of asking permission and then sending a copy is the best one. No one could refuse you permission to blog about it, as you’re entitled to say what you want about the event (as long as you don’t defame!) but the speaker would have the right to object to something which you said he/she had said and which he feels he didn’t say.

      When you quote, you must quote exactly. And a small quote wouldn’t need permission. When you paraphrase, you must indicate that these were not the exact words and perhaps suggest that you might have misunderstood?

      Is that clear? Certainly any physical notes (or powerpoint points) provided cannot be copied without permission. In practice, almost any speaker would give permission, as long as you added the acknowledgement requested.

    2. Good question Nikki. I always quote names and references when I’ve copied information verbatim, in my articles. But I’m never 100% sure that’s enough. Following this one…

      1. Madalyn – this is actually where copyright law *is* tricky, because one is not allowed to quote a “substantial” amount without permission but there is no definition of “substantial”. It also depends on the use – if it’s for a factual article or review you’d get away with more, on the basis of fair use, but if your work is a novel you’d need to ask permission to quote even a couple of sentences from another novel in your novel. (As I did when quoting from 1984 in my novel, Sleepwalking.)

        The best way is that if you have doubt, try to find the copyright-holder to ask permission.

  6. Thanks Nicola, yes, that’s very helpful. Difficult if you have no way of contacting the speaker after the event though.

    I have been pulled up in the past for using an ‘idea’ for a blog post about writing which was taken from a class, so I worry quite a bit about the whole thing now :(

    1. Vikki, you shouldn’t be criticised for using an idea for a blog post about writing. (Or about anything else.) If it was a very unusual idea, fair enough though. I suppose there’s an ethical issue, in theory, depending on the circumstances. Does depend on circumstances, though. And there’s no copyright issue if you haven’t copied words or images.

  7. Thank you for explaining copyright so succinctly, Nicole. I once read an article that I’d written, title and all, in a popular magazine. It didn’t have my byline. Sad, and infuriating, that not everyone has artistic integrity.

  8. If we’re not careful, we’ll inadvertently permit some zealous narcissist to copyright the use of the letter I.

  9. A most interesting post, I seek advice. If on meeting a human, famous for his work, the actor Rowan Atkinson, may I then start making work based on his roll and character Mr Bean? In my situation. On meeting a real cat named Ledaig, famous for his part in my work playing a celebrity cat, may Mr Andrew start making work based my celebrity character Tobermory Cat and using that name? He did not use the name to describe any cat living in Tobermory, it was used as the given name for this particular ginger cat actor. Are there rules governing such things – do they apply to both, just one or not at all? I am interested.

    1. *Role*

      You’d probably get into trouble if you used Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean character.

      You’d not get into trouble if you created your own character called Mr Bean, plopped him into a different story, and had him doing entirely different things, as Ms Gliori has done with her own Tobernory Cat.

      You ask about rules: Nicola has explained them very carefully in her original post. But just in case you still don’t understand (and I can see that you’re having trouble understanding this over at AbsoluteWrite, where these questions have already been answered several times–see the link below), Ms Gliori and her publisher have done nothing wrong; they have not impinged at all upon your copyright with their book, The Tobermory Cat, you don’t have a valid complaint against them; and whoever it is who has harassed her for this should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

      I hope that’s clear.

  10. Tobermory Cat, are you again suggesting wrongdoing (in this and recent cases implying it, rather than overtly expressing it)?

    If that is your intention, rather than to merely pose an innocuous and sincere question, then you should tread gingerly, as such words may be considered defamatory and potentuially cause damage to the author’s reputation and prospects.

    And the consequences of that, alas, will help no-one.

  11. Hi Nicola, I am the Tobermory book shop owner, Duncan. I have photos of the cat that have a digital date that predate the start of the facebook page by almost a year. He is a great fun cat that always attracts a crowd.
    My concern is the trade mark issue. If some one was to register, for example “Mull Sea Eagles”. Does that mean that use by all would be restricted?

    1. Hi Duncan
      Just a quick reply – I’m in the middle of a self-imposed “internet ban while working”! (I’ll reply to others later.)

      You don’t need to worry about this because an attempt at registering that wouldn’t work. If you like, I’ll check with my expert friend but it seems clear to me. You will find this page useful: See the list of “trademarks we will not accept” to see that Mull Sea Eagles would fail. (Those are not actually the only reasons.) If, however, there was something humanly created (eg a fish and chip shop called Mull Sea Eagles) that was really famous and called Mull Sea Eagles, if someone else then opened a shop called Mull Sea Eagles they could be accused of “passing off”, ie deliberately confusing people into buying things from it thinking it was the existing wellknown shop. And they could be forced to change the name.

  12. I do find the whole copyright issue a bit murky and genuinely wonder whether Gus Stewart does have a slightly legitimate gripe (although I don’t approve at all of the hounding of Deb Gliori, she seems like a lovely and talented person)..

    For example:

    I write a story about a boy wizard called Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione who go to a wizarding school and have lots of adventures defeating an evil wizard. As long as I don’t call the school Hogwarts or use other elements that JKR invented, that is not infringement of copyright? JKR’s lawyers won’t be banging on my door?

    Even if legally JKR can’t touch me, it is slightly off, isn’t it?

    1. Hello, “Not Quite Sure”
      You caught me just before I switched internet off again! I’m going to take the shortcut by copying one of my trying-to-be-rational posts on the TC FB page, in which i answered Angus’s similar hypothetical question re if he were to write a story called the Mousehole Cat (of which there is another). Here’s what i said:

      “The law would not, all other things being equal, prevent you writing your own story called The Mousehole Cat, no, because, as has already been said, there is no copyright on titles. (Though I wonder about your phrase, “I can make the most of the existing book”. Why would you want to do that? You’d presumably want to create your own story? And the law does require you to make it different, otherwise you haven’t created it at all.)

      Also, you said “there is a ready made story available” – you would not be allowed to use the same story. Let me pose 3 hypothetical situations: A. You create a story that is completely different from the existing one. (No problem. This happens all the time, as I’ll be explaining in my blog.) B. You create a story which is obviously the same, eg same characters/personalities/ premise/plot/obstacles/outcome and even some same wording; so, clearly a copy. (Big problem – you’d be sued, and rightly.) C. You create a story which bears many similarities to the original and the original writer has a reasonable suspicion (rightly or wrongly) that you copied it. (Problem – and a court would have to decide, based on a whole load of things, whether this was pure chance or that you were guilty of theft.) Those are the sitautions that are tricky. This situation is not!”

      So, the thing is, if you included the elements of Harry Potter that you mention, it would pretty obviously be plagiarised. That’s not exactly the same as copyright infringement but it’s still wrong and you’d still be in trouble. Is that clear?

      Even so, I don’t know how many times this has to be said: Debi’s story does not in any way infringe anything. Trust me! I don’t talk about things unless I’m certain. I’m spending way too much energy – I have to care about this, because copyright, IP and plagiarism, from both sides, go to the heart of my life and work.

      Thanks for coming here – it’s really important that I don’t only preach to the converted.

      And now, to work! To create a new story…

    2. Actually, there have been multiple characters named Harry Potter, including one who was a young boy engaged in magical events, but I doubt the makers of the B-movie “Troll” wanted to have their…wallets…handed to them trying to make a case at Rowling’s lawyers that she stole from them.

  13. Yes that’s what bothers me. There is no doubt that the cat is a “celebrity” in its own right and was so from before the face book page. There is no doubt that Tobermory has been used as a cats name on many occasions.
    But can someone, at any time, register a name as a trade mark and effectively stop others using those descriptive words. Does this not have massive implications?

    1. Duncan – anyone can *try* to register a trademark but honestly they won’t succeed with a phrase like that. The law is there to protect genuine creativity but not to stop others from being creative themselves. Yes, it would have massive implications – which is why it’s not allowed. The trademark body looks very carefully at these things.

      And yes, the cat(s) was(were) known before the FB page.

  14. Hi Duncan, you run a fantastic book shop. Well done, I love bookshops, we all here love bookshops – but to the point. I understand your were party to a proposal that Mr Andrew, yourself and me share my trade mark. You were not concerned then but you are now. What principal has changed? Angus

    1. Angus, please remember that this is a blogpost about copyright rules, not the argument as to who did or said what.

      Please keep the Mull arguments out of it and stick to copyright education. Do you mind?

      Excuse the bossy tone but yes, I used to be a teacher! :)

      I will answer your previous question later but I really have to go and work now.

    2. You do not have the trade mark, Angus: but as was documented at AbsoluteWrite before you wrote this comment here, you’ve applied for a trademark but one has not been granted and is unlikely to be granted.

      You can’t share something which doesn’t exist.

  15. Sorry I was answering “Not Quite Sure” above. I crossed with Nicola’s answer which helps to explains it.
    Even though I still cannot understand how the Trade Mark application for Tobermory Cat was not immediately thrown out. Initial acceptance has just encouraged all parties involved to spend money on the issue. Thanks

  16. Angus – sorry, I had to remove your comment. i appreciate that you probably wrote it before you’d seen my instruction to keep to the topic of copyright education and not to bring the argument as to who said what to whom or when into it.

    I appreciate your cooperation. Many thanks. I will remove this comment of mine, if you would feel more comfortable.

  17. No, please leave the referees flag showing, I agree to your reasons and your kindness in moderating, thanks. I stray from copyright into suggestions for ways to settling. May I we discuss means of settling copyright disputes, is that part of copyright issues? I am interested in settlement – and have been for some time! I have suggested both parties benefited our Tobermory Town Hall with a gift of 2.5% gross from world sales. Do disputes have to go to law Nicola? What is best practice?

    1. But Angus, as you must know, the publisher *is* donating 2.5% of the royalties to the Aros Hall! This is absolutely not something he needs to do and it is a pro bono, voluntary gift and a very generous one, in my view. If you are doing the same, this is surely a happy outcome for the hall, and for Mull.

      To answer the other bit of your comment: best practice is to be well informed (which is what i’m trying to help with, along with several people commenting on your FB page.) Then there’d be no dispute. Of course it’s best to settle any argument or misunderstanding without going to court. That’s not a legal opinion but my personal one!

      Does that help? I really hope so!

      To go back to your Mr Bean suggestion – although that hypothetical situation is not relevant to the story and strays preciously close to your implying that Debi and the publisher have done this, so I hope this is not what you are implying, I refer you to Jane Smith’s excellent answer. I also refer you to my earlier answer to your more relevant Mousehole Cat scenario. (A genuinely interesting hypothetical scenario – thanks for raising it.)

      I really do hope that these comments and the ones on the Absolute Write thread are coming together to outline the issues of copyright etc.

    2. As far as I can tell Ms Gliori and her publisher are not obliged to do anything to settle this with you, as you have no reasonable case against them.

      If you persist with your actions, they might well have a case against you, though.

      1. Jane, i hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d love to be able to calm this whole thing down. I’m still working on the basis that there’s been a simple misunderstanding of copyright and creativity so I’m trying to put it right.

  18. I read through the whole of Debi’s story (thanks for the link) and quite frankly it makes me want to cry.
    If you believe you may have copywright issues, then by all means challenge it! But bullying to that degree? Really? Are we not grown ups here?
    I will never understand how people can behave in that manner and sleep at night.
    Absolutely sickened by it.

    1. Laura – thanks. I agree that it makes tough reading. However, i want to keep this post and this blog strictly on the topic of copyright and to keep away from even quite legitimate criticism. Is that ok? The TC Facebook page might be the place to comment on what’s going on regarding the TC Facebook page? Thanks.

      1. Understood Nicola! Though I have no intention of visiting that page – would probably send my rage into overdrive!
        Well done on being the (impressively calm) voice of reason here.

  19. In the case of gifting, as a means of settling a copyright dispute, if one were to set a percentage, would a copywriter lawyer with an interest in clarity, chose gross or net? Please be assured that I will continue to try to be reasonable and fair but I am clumsy like Mr Bean. I hope this question does not cause offence. It was not intended so. I hate bullying, being bullied and rudeness though some would suggest otherwise. Thanks for the reading suggestions, most kind.

    1. First, this gift is not a means to settling a copyright dispute. It’s a voluntary act. There is no copyright issue here because Debi has used her own words and images.

      Second, a copyright lawyer with an interest in clarity is a copyright lawyer – all lawyers have an interest in clarity.

      Third, whether gross or nett I have absolutely no idea and don’t even understand the question. Nett of what? Of tax? Of bookseller discount? Of agent’s commission? Of overheads? Actually, please don’t answer that because a) I don’t know the answer and b) this is nothing to do with copyright law.

      Angus, come on! Are you winding me up?! I’m losing patience. I need coffee. ;)

  20. As someone who has had her copyright infringed and whose case was settled out of court, I can tell you that first and foremost, you have to have had your copyright actually infringed upon. Not infringed in your opinion, but infringed in reality. Nothing in the case qualifies as either copyright or trademark infringement.

    I am not a lawyer, but you need to consult with one. I’m sure they will give you the same answer all the other knowledgeable people have done: you have no case.

  21. Nicola, I’ll have a coffee while you’re up. A strong one. you did your best

    1. Bridget – you definitely definitely need to get permission. Some record companies will charge you a lot and some a little. Some maybe not at all. But they are notorious for not taking kindly to any use without permission so do play it safe. You can use titles without permission. But even one line of a song could be construed as “substantial” in terms of the proportion of the whole. Don’t take risks with this!

      Thanks for asking.

  22. I dont understand nett hence my question !!, but enough!!! You really have been very gererous with your help and I do take onboard all that you say. I have the next version of my Tobermory Cat book + film to get ready for the printers. I will re-read all posts. Kind wishes, Angus

  23. Coffees all round, N. Black double espressos if possible. This is an open and shut case. You have explained it entirely clearly, concisely, patiently, and I believe that all the information and advice anyone could possibly need is here, should they wish to take it. Bravo for wading in on the side of common sense. You deserve a new pair of pointy boots. :-)

  24. I’m still puzzling over the idea of a living creature as Intellectual Property.

    If an animal, object, or person exists, it’s physical by definition. It’s not the creation of anyone’s intellect or imagination. Photographs of that animal, object, or person belong to the photographer, but illustrations not based on said photographs belong to the artist who creates the illustrations. The one doesn’t need permission of the other because it’s a real, physical thing that’s out there in public.

    If I go to Paris, I can take photographs of Notre Dame. I can stand beside an art student creating a pastel of Notre Dame. I can sit in a cafe with an author who is writing a book about the colorful caretaker of the grounds at Notre Dame. And yet, none of these have anything to do with the other, or the very well known novel by Hugo. We’re all allowed to use or sell what we’ve created, provided someone wants to buy it.

    Notre Dame is famous, you say? Anyone could have heard about it? Okay, then let’s go to Boston.

    There’s a bridge in Boston with a locally famous anecdote tied to it, concerning a college haze and an MIT student named Smoot. This bridge is marked in Smoots from end to end. (364.4 & an ear, to be exact). It’s so well known that the police use the Smoot-lines as location markers, but outside Boston or MIT? Meh, not so much. I can STILL write a book about college student being forced to lie down over and over while being measured. I can STILL put Smoots in a book (and have, for that matter). It’s a local fixture and public construct.

    But that’s a bridge, you say? Public property? Okay fine, shall we jaunt across the map to California?

    There are cats that live in the dorms of Cal Tech. No one owns them. They’re famous in their own right. Anyone can photograph or write about them to their heart’s content. You can portray them as professors or students or aliens or biology experiments gone awry and that will be your story to own. But it doesn’t mean you own the cats.

    These are all real, public things. You can’t take a real, public thing and decide that it’s now private because you want to take it away from the public. You can privatize your version with pictures or words, but you’ve no right to anyone else’s pictures or words based on that real, public thing.

  25. As most people in Tobermory understand, Tobermory Cat is a construct using three cats as one character/ actor – I would suggest that he is therefore a fictional creation that exists in my work. He has been around the world in my work – a fiction. —–to my second point. If on meeting a human, famous for his work, the actor Rowan Atkinson, may I then start making work based on his roll and character Mr Bean? In my situation. On meeting a real cat named Ledaig, famous for his part in my work playing a celebrity cat, may someone start making work based my celebrity character Tobermory Cat and using that name? He did not use the name to describe any cat living in Tobermory, it was used as the given name for this particular ginger cat actor. Are there rules governing such things – do they apply to both, just one or not at all?
    The suggestion that this is a shut case still bothers me.

    1. Angus, no. You may have created your fictional creation (though you haven’t written a story using it, as far as i know – if you have, *that* would be your creation) but you have not created Debi’s fictional creation: the words and images which she has copyright to. It may bother you that this is a “shut case” – but it is. Or, more precisely, it’s an open and shut case.

      And that is absolutely the last time i’m going to comment about your specific situation here. And please don’t bring Mr Bean into it again otherwise I may have to eat a lemon. And then my mouth goes all wrinkly. You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?

      I’ve done my best. it wasn’t enough. Sorry. *prepares to eat a lemon*

  26. Angus Stewart ( Tobermory Cat for my sins)October 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm
    Hi Duncan, you run a fantastic book shop. Well done, I love bookshops, we all here love bookshops – but to the point. I understand your were party to a proposal that Mr Andrew, yourself and me share my trade mark. You were not concerned then but you are now. What principal has changed? Angus

    Just popped on for a quick moment. Don’t want to get drawn in however I must reply to the above. The implication of the statement is untrue (not the bit about the fantastic book shop!). I have no personal interest in the trade mark and never have. Please contact me directly if this needs further clarification.

  27. I’m sorry to see your excellent efforts being hijacked, Nicola.

    If the issue persists or escalates, you’ll find that super-sleuth @JeremyDuns at twitter just loves to get his teeth into a worthy internet or publishing scandal.

    Feel free to delete this intrusion when digested. Thanks again.

  28. Nicola, thank you for this post, but I fear you’re preaching the converted and those who don’t want to understand won’t ever understand.

    It reminds me of when I used to work at the CAB, and people would come in ‘knowing’ their rights. Because they were in that mindset, it was nigh on impossible for me to convince them that either they were completely wrong, or that the law they thought applied to their particular case didn’t. One man even reported me to the manager because he didn’t get the answer he wanted (and she, doughty woman that she was, sent him away with a flea in his ear!)

    Like you, I’ve inadvertanty written something and then found out that someone else came up with *almost* the same idea. Several years ago I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo called End Game. One of the main characters was a black FBI agent who was investigating the assassination of the President, in which the First Lady was implicated.

    Fast forward a year or so and my daughter sent me a DVD across saying ‘Mum, you’ve got to see this.’ It was called End Game, and in it Cuba Gooding Jnr played a CIA agent, investigating the assassination of the president … in which the first lady was implicated. I wanted to weep!

    I didn’t copy their story and they didn’t copy mine, because the timing meant that both must have existed independently. Besides, mine was set in the future (it had robots!) and the DVD was set in present day.

    Even if it had gone to court, I don’t think anyone would have said I stole their idea or they mine, because apart from the particulars I laid out, the story was completely different. It really is all about execution and how you tell a story.

    In Chesterfield we have the Crooked Spire, and it’s a ‘celebrity’ if you like. People may paint it, photograph it, write about it, and nearby there’s a cafe called The Spire. Throughout the town you can see the influence of the Spire. The football team are known as the Spireites, and the local free newspaper has a character ‘Sammy Spire’. I could write about its history and so could someone else, but we still wouldn’t be stealing each other’s ideas, even if that history was (has to be) exactly the same, as long as we used different words. I might, if I could draw as well as Debi, create a picture book about it.

    The point, of course, is that no one owns the copyright or intellectual rights to the Crooked Spire because it’s an actual, physical building and a well-known landmark of Chesterfield. It’s impossible to write about Chesterfield without mentioning it and it would be ludicrous for anyone to write about a Crooked Spire in a different town just because one of the dozens of artists who’ve taken pictures of it decided the idea of the Spire belonged to them. It seems, from what I’ve read, that the Tobermory cat is a well-known, albeit living, landmark of Tobermory.

  29. You tell a sorry story. Copywriter clearly must takes chance duplicates into account. May I ask, did they come to discuss their /your film /book End Game with you prior to doing their film? Did they offer to put your picture or credit you on the back of their DVD and earn click though revenue from selling their DVD? What is normal practice regarding copywriter, I am new to publishing, this being my first book. I know little of normal publishing courtesies but would such an offer be good enough for you? I have not seen that film or read your book, I hope both were good. Kind regards, Angus

    1. Angus, you’ve completely missed Sally’s point! The point is that sometimes someone does have the same idea at the same time but although it can be stressful when you discover that someone else is doing it, it doesn’t matter because both are different creations and there is room for both. Sally said, “I didn’t copy their story and they didn’t copy mine, because the timing meant that both must have existed independently. Besides, mine was set in the future (it had robots!) and the DVD was set in present day. Even if it had gone to court, I don’t think anyone would have said I stole their idea or they mine, because apart from the particulars I laid out, the story was completely different. It really is all about execution and how you tell a story.”

      As Sally knows, I have a very similar story. I’ve blogged about it and written about it in my book Write to be Published. To summarise: my first novel, Mondays are Red is a teenage novel about a 14-yo boy called Luke, with synaesthesia. It came out in Oct 2002. the following month (ie virtually at the same time, and we must have been writing at the same time) an already wellknown author, Tim Bowler, published Starseeker. It is a teenage novel about a 14-yo boy called Luke, with synaesthesia. The point is that (as with Sally’s story) neither of us could have known we were both writing about the same idea and anyway, IT DIDN”T MATTER, because they are two different stories! We are both creators and we know how this works. And we are now both good friends.

      The questions you ask Sally show (as you say) that you are very new to this. That’s quite forgiveable. However, what’s really difficult is that we are all trying to tell you the same thing and failing to get through.

      Yes, when a writer discovers that someone else seems to have had the same idea at the same time, it’s a stressful moment, but you then realise that (to repeat!) there is no copyright on ideas and anyway you can both write about the same idea.

      The fact that it’s really annoying when any of us finds that someone else is doing something similar to what we’re doing does not make it right to attack the person or claim any rights. There has been (to repeat!) no breach of copyright. i promise you. My strong and heartfelt advice to you is to make your Tobermory Cat products as wonderful as you have the power to do and let everyone create art as the laws allow. Please. Really, please. Please with cats’ whiskers.

      May i go now?

  30. Crikey, I’ve read Nicola’s excellent and informative post and all the comments in this thread and am stunned. Angus, you have had many knowledgeable and experienced people explain the law on copyright to you and you are unwilling to accept that they are correct.

    I think that instead of constantly returning to this thread, or your Facebook page or whatever and insisting that you have been wronged, you need to desist from making critical and potentially defamatory statements about Debi or her publisher and take some expert legal advice.

    And then you need to abide what they tell you and concentrate on making new art, whether about this cat or something else. This argument is just going round in circles.

  31. It is perhaps unwise to venture a comment. I have ordered both books and might well blog about the issue when I have read them. I love cats, ginger cats especially, and loved Mull the one time I went there and met a ginger cat.

    There has been a huge misunderstanding of what can and can’t be copyrighted on the artist’s part and by some of the commenters on his blog.

    But Nicola has explained tirelessly and patiently with no axe to grind and with only everyone’s best interests at heart. The Internet is sometimes a very mixed blessing.

    I hope she can now be left in peace to write her own books.

  32. Yes, what Nicola said! I was making the point that sometimes such stories exist independently, and what happened was a massive coincidence. My novel was unpublished at the time I found out about the DVD (it has since been published under a different title but is not available now). Therefore it would never have occurred to me to contact the filmmakers and tell them they shouldn’t have used that title or basic idea because I’d written a story with the same title and basic premise at roughly the same time as they filmed their DVD.

    As Nicola, and others have repeatedly tried to tell you, there is no copyright on ideas (or titles for that matter).

    Nicola, you deserve a medal, you really do. Failing that, have some chocolate.

  33. It is difficult Nicola but harder for Sally. Sally we live in difficult times. It seems that even if they knew of your work, made use of her work, used the same title as your work for their adapted film, Sally would be misguided to expect anything. I sympathise with Sally and I hope she sympathises just a tiny bit with me. I am learning about copywriter. It seems you would have a claim if they printed your very words onto the screen of their film otherwise you would be misguided. Thanks for the guidance Nicola. Most kind.

  34. OK. That’s it. Comments closing now. I have a life to lead. I failed, totally failed, to explain the most simple aspects of copyright law.

    It’s not hard for Sally. Sally is not complaining. She has gone away and created something and been proud of it. How could anyone imagine that the other writer should acknowledge something that was published LATER? (And, as Sally and all writers know, a book going out of print is a very common occurrence, with no one necessarily to blame. I have award-winning novels that are out of print.)

    Angus, please go back to my answer to your Mousehole Cat question. The answer is there. The answer was always there.

    We all tried to help. We really did.

    I am now closing comments as nothing further can be gained. Thanks, everyone, for your help and interest.

  35. OK, by request, I have re-opened for comments, but only for today. Here are the rules:

    No mention of Mr Bean, James Bond or Mousehole.
    No abuse, even mild.

    Just say what you agree with or disagree with and why.

    I will moderate anything i want to in any way I want to.

    Thank you!

  36. Thanks, Nicola, for this.

    I’m a children’s author and I do school visits and encourage children to send me in their writing so I can put it up on my website. I’ve always said NOT to write about characters that already exist in books (as I’m not sure about copyright law but assume it could be a problem). A teacher has just sent me a class poem that they wrote in response to a famous Roald Dahl book. It’s got the names of the animal characters in it. I said I’d check first but I thought I’d have to change the names of the characters (or get them to make up new ones) so I could put it up. Is that the case? Thanks again, Clare.

    1. Hi Juliet
      Interesting! A few things here (and i’d welcome any other EXPERT additions to the answer).

      1. You can write *about* characters, as this would be done in essays or reviews or critical pieces.
      2. There are some other things you can do with characters created by others in fiction. For example, you’re allowed to do a parody or something *inspired* by a fictional character. “Inspired by” is so different from “copying”. Without knowing the details, i can’t say – and to be honest, I’m not a legal bod so I wouldn’t want to say if I wasn’t sure.
      3. What about contacting the Roald Dahl estate? I think it’s pretty inconceivable that they’d try to prevent you doing what you suggest.

      The copyright laws aren’t there to stop legitimate creativity, or even being inspired by the ideas or characters of others. The laws are there to stop people stealing or copying. What you’re talking about is a grey area in between. In my view.

    1. Yes! But not because of copyright laws.

      If you wrote such a story and if, in the minds of right-thinking people (I think that’s the phrase?) you were writing about an actual living person and portraying him or her in a detrimental/false light, you’d be risking defamation proceedings, as you well know!

  37. Mr. Stewart, as I understand it, it comes down to this.

    You canNOT copyright ideas.
    You canNOT copyright names.
    You canNOT copyright titles.

    Ms. Gliori has not taken your images and used them. As has been stated time and again, she hasn’t even taken your ideas (which, you’ll recall, I just said can’t be copyrighted anyway).

    There is this cat. Everyone sees the cat. Everyone loves the cat. Everyone is telling stories about the cat. Everyone is taking pictures of the cat. Everyone is making art of the cat.

    Until someone uses YOUR images and YOUR words without YOUR permission (and remember, names and titles can’t be copyrighted either, only your words in a blog post or in a brochure or in a story), they are not infringing on ANYTHING of yours.

    And until (if!) you are successful in trademarking the title The Tobermory Cat, no one is infringing on your trademark, either. You don’t own the trademark.

    You don’t even own the cat.

    Since you don’t even own the cat, you are in no position to control anything said, written, drawn or photographed about the damn cat. The only thing you control are the images YOU’VE taken, the words YOU’VE put on Facebook in regards to the cat.

    It’s laudable that you have taken a local character in your town and built up celebrity around him. That still does not entitle you to control anything about something that does not belong to you in the first place. Again, all you OWN are your images, your words. Until someone else uses those without your permission, YOU HAVE NO CLAIM.

    It’s really not very hard. Frankly, you’re just coming off as being bitter and angry someone got more notoriety than you. Yes, it’s difficult to see that you don’t have the corner on the market of a local celebrity cat.

    That’s how these things go, sometimes.

  38. For everyone’s interest, Lucy Coats has blogged eloquently about trolling here:

    And yes, my post was about copyright and not trolling, but I seem to remember that somewhere someone said something about not understanding what it is. (That’s not a facetious remark, btw – I genuinely can’t remember whether that was said in the reams of comments above, or elsewhere.)

    1. I’ve tried to give clear definitions of both internet trolling and cyber bullying, Nicola, because I do know that many people are unsure exactly what those terms mean. Hope it’s helpful. I’m pretty sure most here will understand what is involved – and what is and is not acceptable in polite, respectful debate. If not, I hope they’ll wise up soon!

  39. For the Dahl question, you can write Fan Fiction…it’s all over the internet. There’s a few fanfic Dahl pieces up. I think in this case what the kids have done constitutes Fan Fiction.

    A few bestselling books started life as fanfic (50 Shades for one). Harry Potter fanfic is one of the biggest and if anyone was going to be sued it would be them. JK doesn’t mind as long as there’s no sex. The author can ask for them to be taken down. And some do, and some don’t.

    There’s a Wiki on the US regulations which refers to the UK towards the bottom. It also states some authors which absolutely don’t allow it.

    1. Yes, and I very much doubt that the RD estate would refuse to allow school pupils to do what it sounds as if is going on in Juliet’s school. (Apols for appalling sentence structure!)

      Thanks, Eve. I don’t think Angus would want anyone doing fan-fiction of his 3-cat construct, somehow. But thanks for introducing it into the mix. As you say, if anyone was going to be sued it would be the JK fanfic-writers.

  40. Closing comments again now, as I’m away tomorrow and need not to have to police things. Though you’ve all been very well behaved. *wipes brow*

    Next week, I’ll be blogging about the unsacredness of ideas and how creative people find and use them.


Never miss a post, including competitions, offers, discounts and giveaways, as well as intelligent, perceptive, science-based articles. Your details will not be shared and you may unsubscribe at any time. For details and how I look after your data, go here.

Join over 7,000 followers

Don't miss out!

I’m now blogging at Substack – do join me there.