At a book talk about a week ago, a woman asked me if I'm ever worried that someone might steal my stories and use them for their own purposes. "Your stories are so good," she said. "How do you protect them from someone who might try to tell them as their own? Or write and publish them? Or write a novel based upon your life?"
I was amused by the question. Copyright, I explained, protects me. There is no need to file any official paperwork in order to establish copyright. If I were to write a poem on the inside of a box of cereal, it would immediately be copyrighted. If I stand up before nine people in a bar and tell a story about my life, I'm instantly protected by copyright.
Copyright is a beautiful thing.
Then I added something like this:
Besides, who would be so desperate and pathetic to steal one of the stories? What kind of sick person would pretend that my life was their own? Even if someone wanted to steal one of my stories, I spend a large portion of my life trying to convince people to write. To tell stories. To preserve their own stories and their own voice in some way for future generations. But the vast majority of these people - almost all of them - ignore my warnings, continue to stare at the television, and live lives of eventual, lamentable regret.
People are lazy, I explained. If a person can't take the time to write or tell your own stories, why would they ever find the energy or initiative to tell my stories?
I liked this answer a lot. I thought it was funny and honest and a little pointed. All characteristic that I adore. And it made the audience laugh, hopefully in the way you laugh at things you know are terribly true.
Then I went home and told Elysha about my impressive answer. Waited for her to express as much admiration for my response as I was feeling.
Instead she said this:
"But Matt, someone did steal one of your stories. Don't you remember?"
She was right.
About four years ago, a low life scum of a human being was speaking to two of my friends when he launched into an amusing story about his childhood. My friends listened in horror, quickly realizing that he was telling one of my childhood stories as is own. They allowed him to finish before calling him on it, at which point he attempted a few feeble excuses and slithered away like the worm that he was and still is.
Damn. That lady at RJ Julia Booksellers was right. People steal stories.
Correction: Low life cretins steal stories.
It admittedly takes an especially sad, despicable, and rotten human being to do such a thing - someone who hates their own life so much that they will steal the life of another - but it's a real possibility.
My clever, cavalier answer was nonsense.
My only hope is that the number of low life cretins looking to steal stories is low.