"Can I Really Take Idea [X]? For free?"

Yes. And no.

Yes, in that ideas are rarely owned and I'm not looking for compensation. We all like validation, so acknowledgement would be swell. Well, unless you're going to use my thoughts in some illegal, amoral, unethical, Republican, contrary, perverse, or generally douchey way. In that case please don't credit me, but do crawl into a hole and die.

And no, because it's possible that my post may not be the first or only place a particular idea appears.

From here on it gets a little dicey, so take what follows as a disclaimer.

NOTE: I cannot offer legal advice; don't take anything I write as such, even when it sounds good. For the real deal on Intellectual Property law and ownership rights, seek professional legal counsel; I know a good I.P. lawyer, if you're in the market.

As I understand it...

Most creative efforts/works posted publicly (in the U.S.) are automatically copyrighted under U.S. law, without any extra paperwork or legal filing required - it's on a first come, first served basis. Proper filing is still recommended, however - not being issued an official copyright by the government may limit awards if there's litigation over ownership. So go ahead and post a snippet from your new novel, or that new graphic you've designed - using it without your permission is thereafter stealing.

(Check out U.S. Copyright Law, Chapter 1, Section 102. Online posting is considered a "tangible medium of expression" in the context of this law.)

But the same cannot be said of ideas - ideas cannot be copyrighted, trademarked, or patented. Specific work resulting from the expression/production of many ideas can be owned, but not the ideas themselves. For example, if you have an idea for a story or commercial product, no matter how unique it may be, you don't actually own it - if you tell folks about it, someone overhears it, or they come up with it on their own, they can run with it and it's perfectly legal. But if you write that story, that specific story (i.e. your text) IS copyrightable; someone else can write a similar story based on the same idea, but can't use your words to do so. A product you sell probably can't be protected from copycats (knock-offs are perfectly legal most of the time), but a unique look to the product might be trademarked, and the same with your brand/logo. And if you're especially clever and your product is truly new, you might be able to earn a patent on it, or on the unique process used to manufacture it.

I'm oversimplifying this quite a bit. Certain types of idea sharing (say, pitching a story to a Hollywood producer) can be protected, especially when presented under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). And there are murky waters and legal riptides related to uniqueness, trademarks, and product/brand recognition - for instance, you might write about a boy attending a school for wizards, and you could write about a boy named Harry Potter, but I wouldn't recommend putting them in the same book. Then there are some industries that grant limited or short-term ownership rights to products even though those products could be reproduced independently (as with drugs). And as for international law... [Gallic shrug] I have no clue what to tell you.

But I can say this.

Any idea I present here I've come to independent of any other source, and I'm putting it out there in the hopes someone will give it some sort of life, or be inspired by it. But that doesn't mean someone else hasn't already come up with the same thing elsewhere, and exploited it. It's even remotely possible that something I've posted might already have been lifted by another reader and used in some way that grants their work protection and rights. So can I guarantee you that you're the first to jump on what is obviously the most remarkable, useful, ingenious, and downright awesome idea in the history of History and you can run with it without looking back? No.

But since most ideas can't be owned... You get the idea.

If anything posted here turns out to be in use elsewhere, whether before or after my post, I'll gladly edit to cite that source. Better still, if you use something from here, or springboard from it, let me know and I'll brag about it for both of us! I'll also be happy to remove a post if the material can be demonstrated to be owned - and I mean owned - elsewhere prior to my posting, and the owner requests the removal.

I must stress that it's YOUR responsibility to exert due diligence, to research your end game, and to obtain proper legal advice if you plan to make something happen with anything you find here. I'm not accountable for your choices. Ideas are harmless, but not so the world. Look before you leap!