Conrad Zero, Dark Fiction Author from Minneapolis, MN, asks:
I’ve been working on a novel for years now (at least 2) and it’s almost finished. In my novel, the protagonist dies. but my story does not end there! She goes to what I call the “spirit world” and she must fight her way back into the real world! My beta-reader (my Mom) suggested to me that this concept of the “spirit world” may have been used in literature before. Some online research revealed she might be right. According to this site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descent_to_the_underworld the Romans, Egyptians, Christians and Alice Sebold have already used my idea!
Clearly this is the work of time-travelers and/or psychics. Is there any legal recourse for me to complete my novel and then retroactively sue Romans/Egyptians/Christians/Alice Sebold for stealing my idea before I actually had it?
As was discovered by a gentleman who wants to reverse Jesus’ conviction by the Roman Empire, it can be hard to find a court that has jurisdiction to pass judgment on those long gone to dust. Unless you have a time machine yourself, of course, but then you end up dealing with the laws of that time and place. And since penalizing the infringers would mean changing the past, most prominent authorities in time travel would recommend against it. Also, you would need to learn the language, so.
So, my suggestion is that you let it go. But do consider trademarking the term “spirit world,” so that you can sue the pants off any future miscreants. As Games Workshop has shown, just because lots of people have been using a particular term since long before you were born, doesn’t mean you can’t claim it as your own invention.