Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stealing Ideas

Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias: Choose: Credit or Influence (Jun. 12, 2007) writes:
Some advise academics not to post working papers, as others might steal your ideas. Many fiction writers are afraid editors will steal their ideas. Many are afraid that venture capitalists will steal their business idea instead of funding their team.

Howard Aiken said 'Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats.' I don't think it is quite that simple - people can and do steal ideas. But if what you want is influence, instead of credit, the choice should easy: you should want people to steal your ideas. So think about it: how much do you or should you care about credit, versus influence?
Of the three examples in the first paragraph, I think the least to worry about are the academics posting their working papers. First, publishing on the net gives them a provable priority date for any plagiarism dispute. Second, it is already hard enough to persuade others to accept one's original ideas, even when fully argued--"you will have to ram it down their throats."


Eric Rowe said...

But does plagiarism apply to stealing of mere ideas apart from specific words?
All scholars do a lot of reading and get at least parts of what become potential original ideas from unoriginal things they've read along the way, sometimes without remembering when or where.
A blog might prove that one person preceded another in an idea. But I'm skeptical that it can prove the other person actually plagiarized it, unless they steal actual words.
What does the lawyer say?

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Plagiarism definitely applies to stealing ideas. Copyright infringement requires the misappropriation of another's words (or expression).