On Copyright and Concept

So, yesterday I had a sudden flash of inspiration. A concept for a story that was so crisp and detailed and visual that I started to worry I’d seen it somewhere before.

Like, literally seen. Like maybe it was in a movie I’d watched and then forgotten.

I don’t talk about stories I’m working on, so no, I won’t be talking about the concept itself here. (Superstitious? Maybe. But I come from a home where putting shoes, even brand new ones, on a table is inviting misfortune and bad mojo to rain down upon you. Hi Mom!) Anyway, because I don’t talk about works in progress, that also means I can’t ask around to see if the concept seems familiar to anyone else. I Googled, which turned up nothing. I wracked my brain. I finally caved and reluctantly told my idea to C, something I very rarely do, and he assured me he’s never heard of it.

Still, the worry nags at me. It’s not that I think there’s anything new under the sun (hell, I even have a super-trendy zombie story under my belt). It’s just that the details of this concept feel reasonably fresh, and frankly I’d hate to find out later that someone beat me to it.

It’s the idea that writing a story about a hotel is fine, but writing about a haunted hotel where a snowed-in writer loses his mind has been done, and even barring legal issues, to write the same story would be stale and redundant.

I asked for advice in an online writing community and was reassured that I should write it anyway: that ideas can’t be copyrighted and that shy of actual plagiarism I should be safe from getting my ass sued off.

It’s a new feeling. I’ve never been so hesitant to write before, and it’s bumming me out.

Real Live Death

Most Thursdays I watch The First 48.

Being from a (very thankfully) low-violent-crime area, the show is shocking. It’s sad, and morbidly fascinating, as the cameras pan through bloodied crime scenes and show blurred corpses laying about. The past few seasons I’ve noticed the shows have been much more censored in terms of what we are and aren’t allowed to see. I respect that, in terms of protecting the family, but the show has lost a lot of the impact it had before.

Still, death is interesting. In fact, I’ve thought about doing crime-scene and decomp cleanup for a living. It’s interesting, the things that bother some people and not others. Gore bothers me, sure, but it doesn’t scare me at all.

The recent censoring begs the question: how much is too much? Should we be allowed to see real death on television? What if the death is self-inflicted?