I've been a freelance cartoonist and one of the questions I am most frequently asked is "how do you keep people from stealing your ideas?" The simple answer is, I don't worry about it.
For most novice writers and artists this is the first question that comes to mind. I have to say this: in over 40 years of cartooning I am not aware of any instances where anybody ever stole one of my cartoons. I'm sure it has happened, but the fact that I am unaware of it demonstrates that I have not been damaged by it if it has happened.
The only protection you have against unauthorized protection is legal protection through copyrights or trademarks. The problem you have here is enforcement. You have legal recourse but it costs you legal fees to claim your rights. Unless your property is very valuable, it isn't worth the cost. In addition I'm sure one would have to prove they were damaged by the unauthorized use and the question becomes how much and how?
Most people are honest and won't steal an intellectual property. If they do they rarely profit enough from doing so to make it worth the risk. And here's another point: if you negotiate with the writer or artist you can often strike a deal whereby you share in his successes. For example, I offer webmasters a cartoon page using my cartoons in a partnership arrangement whereby they promote my cartooning services and I give them commissions on the services I sell. This works much better for everybody and there is very little reason for anybody to want to steal my cartoons.
I think the same principles can work for writers, photographers, musicians and other artists. Sometimes the effort you take to prevent theft just isn't worth what you give up in the process. It's like owning a department store and keeping it locked 24 hours a day. Sure, that will prevent people from shoplifting your merchandise, but it will also prevent them from buying it.
Ron Coleman is a cartoonist, illustrator and humorous writer. His work can be viewed on his website: http://www.colemantoons.com.
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