It’s a common misconception than copyright laws protect ideas.
What they protect is the way those ideas are expressed—not the ideas themselves. This means that if you have an idea for an app, copyright laws will not protect you if someone attempts to pirate your idea before the app comes to fruition. There are, however, ways that you can actively protect that idea before it is expressed in a way that the laws will protect.
Be Careful about Sharing Information
When you have a great idea, it is tempting to see how others will respond to your brainchild. While there is likely a circle of people that you can absolutely trust to keep your idea to themselves and not to steal it for their own gain, there are also likely people that you already know you shouldn’t tell.
Be selective about who you share your idea with and what information you actually share with those people. Divulging the extent of your idea on social media, for example, is a good way to make sure someone else grabs it and uses it. This doesn’t mean you can’t workshop the idea, but just make sure it is in the right forum and with the right people.
Research the Companies and Individuals You Will Work With
It may sound harsh to say that the people you are going to be working with as you develop your app are the most likely to steal your idea, but the truth is that they will have the most information about that idea. If you are going to be using developers, designers, writers, or marketers, it’s important to research those companies and individuals thoroughly. If they’re willing to take your idea, it’s likely they’ve done it before, and someone has written about it online.
Make Use of Contracts and NDAs
One of the best ways to both make sure that the companies/individuals you work with are held accountable for any sharing or theft is to have contracts and non-disclosure agreements in place before any real work begins. Contracts are beneficial for both parties, as most also protect the intellectual property and work done by the developer, writer, designer, etc.
Non-disclosure agreements will not necessarily entirely protect your idea from falling into the hands of someone who will attempt to use it as their own. What it will do, however, is provide you with a level of protection that can first, dictate what information can be shared, how to share it, and with whom, and second, give you legal recourse if an outsourced party violates the agreement.
Trademark Your Idea
Trademarking is an expensive and protracted process, but if you feel the name of your app idea is a valuable one, trademarking it can be worth the time and money. While it still doesn’t protect the idea itself, one of the biggest benefits of this process is being able to reserve the name of your app for future use.
Actually Make the App
Copyright laws will protect the app itself, once it has been built. The code and design are legally protected. While someone can still create a knock-off, yours will always be the first and because it will be illegal to reverse-engineer or outright steal your code, it will probably also be the best
Note: A longer version of this post exists at Johnson-Moo.com.