'Using' others' ideas - what's the legality?


So a bunch of friends are always pitching ideas to each other.

One day, one of my friends does one of these "this would be a great idea for a site". It's blown off as another of his 'ideas', but to me, it sounds like pure gold.

If I just go off and make it, does he have any recourse, aside from being a little jealous/angry that the site is not his, even though he may never have ended up making it?

Getting Started Pitch Website Micro Startup

asked Jan 18 '13 at 09:29
Mark Mayo
106 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • Kicking you out of the friends club is a likely risk. Or he can contact the [department of ideas](http://xkcd.com/827/) on you. Worked for that guy on xkcd. – Jim Galley 8 years ago
  • There's so an xkcd for everything, isn't there :) – Mark Mayo 8 years ago
  • Perhaps this could be of merit - http://hollylisle.com/how-to-legally-and-ethically-steal-ideas/Jim Galley 8 years ago
  • In the US of course you would go off and make it, then sue him if it didn't work for not disclosing that it was a bad idea – Mgb 8 years ago
  • Why not build it together? While it's sometimes legal to screw people, I think you will not find much happiness or success in doing so. – Frenchie 8 years ago
  • +1 to jimg for the "Department of ideas" – Annonomus Person 8 years ago

3 Answers


As others have said, legally there is not much your friend can do if you were to take this idea and run with it. Ideas are not worth the paper they are written on, as they say.

However, it might be best to approach your friend and discuss your proposals with him. I wouldn't let on that you think the idea is golden, but rather downplay it slightly, but say you think the idea might be "viable" and are considering making the site mentioned.

The chances are your friend will be happy for you to use the idea, on the other hand he may choose to assist you with the site. Depending on his level of involvement you can then negotiate exactly how much of a share to give him.

This way, you may get the business and keep your friend. If negotiations don't work out satisfactorily for you, then go off and do it on your own anyway!

answered Jan 20 '13 at 23:52
Gavin Coates
248 points


To enforce intellectual property rights, one must take steps to protect those rights. It is not automatic. In the US, there is little or no legal recognition of moral rights of authorship. That may mean your friend needs to consider filing a patent or copyright application, or using non-disclosure agreements. Absent these, your friend probably has little legal recourse.

answered Jan 18 '13 at 10:59
826 points


Legally you can use his idea.

I suspect you will have two outcomes:

  1. A failed business
  2. Lost friend(s)
answered Jan 18 '13 at 11:39
Joel Friedlaender
5,007 points
  • Entirely possible, and I'm prepared for #1. #2 is the tricky part. – Mark Mayo 8 years ago
  • Have some faith! #3: The next Facebook :) – Fredrik 8 years ago

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