1. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    Copyright Issues

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by CSwolery, Aug 19, 2011.

    I have an odd question to ask, but it's very important. If I ever wanna get published, I need to be versed on copyright. You see, my inspiration for writing is always a story that angered me. Something happened I REALLY didn't like, and I was angered enough to actually write a redaction. So I sorta am a fanfiction writer; except that for the most part I try and make it my own. For instance, I REALLY hated the ending to Lovecraft's 'Shadow Over Innsmouth.' For that matter, I have everything about Lovecraft as a writer and a human being. So I'm yanking Innsmouth out of Lovecraft Country, putting it in MY universe, and writing a story where Innsmouth has been rebuilt, and a descendant of Orbed Marsh, Dr. Logan Marsh, runs the Innsmouth Clinic, which is essentially a hospice for people with the Innsmouth Look. Using the text of 'Shadow Over Innsmouth' and simple logic, I make the alternate interpretation that the Deep Ones are vastly delusional about the scope of their power, wealth and ability to dominate humanity. In another story, "Lost Generation" British WWI vets use then modern war equipment to free their village of Hampstead from the Cultists, and then utterly slaughter the Deep One counterattack. Cosmic Horrors from beyond the Cosmos are a part of the tension, but both angels and demons fight them relentlessly wherever they try and breech into that universe.

    So I'm taking ideas, and contorting them to do what I want, in my own universe. I'm making them my own. And I know there's such a thing as fair use, and that there comes a point when something is sufficiently different copyright no longer applies (like Nosferatu from Dracula), but I have no idea what these exact rules are, nor where to find them nor how to use them to make my stories publishable. So I'm asking for help, because it would make writing a tad easier without copyright violations breathing down my neck. Any help is appreciated.
     
  2. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    In this specific instance, most of Lovecraft's work is public domain, and a lot of authors use the Cthulhu mythos in their stories.

    Sticking, say, Hogwartz in the middle of your story would not constitute fair use in most cases, though.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think Shadow Over Innsmouth might still be under copyright in the U.S., but it would take some research to know for sure. It isn't old enough to absolutely be in the public domain.

    Why would you go to the trouble of creating a new work based on works you hate? Odd.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read the stickied Writing Resources thread. Among other things, you will find a link for the US Copyright Office.
     
  5. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    Thanks! Added to favorites.

    Fair question, although conversely I do not understand being inspired by a story you like. It’s already been told. I guess I'm not a writer by nature, I am a reader. My need to write comes from the simple fact that no one writes what I want to read. I did not like it that Tarkin destroyed Alderaan in a New Hope. It's my only beef with the original trilogy. But no one wrote stories where the Death Star doesn't blow up Alderaan, so in frustration, I redacted ANH so that the Imperial Fleet becomes aware that the Death Star is coming to Alderaan, and mutinies because that's not the Empire they signed up for. And they fight the Death Star to a standstill, so that the Emperor is forced to order Tarkin to stand down, because it's political suicide not to. I have the story I want, I am happy. Then I realize this means that there are people serving the Empire for good solid reasons, and now they are openly at war with the douches whom they believe are subverting the 'good' Emperor's will. And I like that FAR more than the original Star Wars, however much I love Star Wars. And then the story spins out from there. But that has copyright issues that cannot ever be overcome.

    Innsmouth Clinic is a direct assault on everything Lovecraft stood for as a writer. I do this because Lovecraft did not treat those with the Innsmouth Look as sapient creatures capable of free will; they were merely stand-ins for Lovecraft's vile racism and hatred of race-mixing. Shadow over Innsmouth was nothing but insular mental masturbation. I'm gonna take his idea, and I'm going take it seriously; I'm going to play it absolutely straight, and I'm going to pick apart every assertion he made about the Deep Ones, show them to be utter bullcrap even within the internal logic of Lovecraft country. Innsmouth Clinic may turn out to be mental masturbation too, but it will entertain far better. I will humiliate a craven coward, racist, no-talent hack (his actual writing is horrible top to bottom and I'm not the first to say so) by beating him at his own game. With his own story. And Copyright expires on Shadow over Innsmouth in two years; I hope to have a ready manuscript by that day. I’ll know I’ve done it right if the Lovecraft fans howl for my blood. I’ll probably be disappointed otherwise.
     
  6. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Tarkin blowing up Alderaan bothered you? Really?

    Your Star Wars revisions sound very un-Star Wars.
     
  7. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    Original Trilogy, yes. Broader George Lucas vision, not so much. My boyfriend told me enough of the Darth Bane books to show that good and evil are not nearly so concrete as the Jedi and episodes IV-VI would have us believe. The commentary on how the Republic treated the Rim Worlds and how the Jedi treated parents that didn't want to give their children to the Order is very, very damning and murkies the waters significantly.
     
  8. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Your logic is a little off - the expanded universe isn't part of the broader George Lucas vision, and he's said as much many times. He doesn't read the novels, comic books, etc., and ignores them if he wants to. The George Lucas vision is the movies (which, given the prequels, might not be saying much for the George Lucas Vision).
     
  9. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    Funny, because I was under the impression that the EU was cannon unless Lucas specifically said otherwise. In any case, both the Republic and especially the Jedi are shown to be HIGHLY tainted organizations. Popular unease of the Jedi is assumed in Palpatine's selling of the Purge, and there is every reason to believe that after the gross incompetence of the Republic, that good people could willingly serve the Constitutional Monarchy that inaugurates the Galactic Empire. I used bits of Palpy's New Order Speech to justify why the Imperial Fleet would mutiny, along with the memory of Grievous' glassing worlds, which is novelization canon, but absolute canon.

    And this I am told is my strength as a storyteller; I interpret things very differently than what is strictly normal. It's both interesting and gives my stories an internal integrity that lends greatly to its credibility. Yes, I have no respect whatsoever for theme, meme, genre or archetype, but that means I can bring out things that if they are not new, they are not seen often.
     
  10. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Oh, the EU is canon, but Lucas has nothing to do with it. Also, I apologize for derailing this discussion.
     
  11. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    No prob. And it's good I guess to get it out there that I am not a genre writer. I taker my stories where I want to go. And that I'm very good at justifying the things that I have happening. I do like the change of pilfering ideas and making them my own, a form of litterary retroengineering, but before I can skirt da rulz, I gotta know what da rulz actually are.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    What if they love it, and adapt it into the mythos?
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Lovecraft fans howling for your blood won't tell you anything. They could be howling because the writing is utter crap, or because even though it is well done they don't like the way you took the mythos. Or anything in between. So I don't think that in and of itself is a good measurement of how well you've done the job.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've noticed that some of the first people to mock Lovecraft are actually Lovecraft fans. There is a big business in Lovecraftian humor right now too, which basically is taking something weird and supposed-to-be-scary in his stories and turning them around. Like the Deep One song a few years ago 'Fish Men' or the play 'Shoggoth on the Roof'.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    none of that has anything to do with 'fair use'... better go to www.copyright.gov and find out what that term really means...
     
  16. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    What specifically am I looking for? Cause what I'm trying to do if figure out the degrees of separation. For simplicity I will use Star Trek: Say I want to write a story with Cardassians. How much of the Star Trek Cardassian can I appropriate for my own work before it violates copyright? I wouldn't want to use Star Trek Cardassians (although they are the most human characters), they would be my inspiration, and I cannot write without such inspiration. But there is a line between inspiration and plagiarism, and I need to know EXACTLY where that line is.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    then you need to consult a literary attorney, since 'the big boys' don't take using their stuff lightly and can afford to sue you till the cows come home...
     
  18. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Especally Lucas Arts. There was a case recently where a Star Wars fan made a replica Storm Trooper helmet for display in his shop, just display - he didn't want to sell it, and he was sued.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, mammamaia is right.

    If you get sued for copyright infringement and go through trial, it is going to cost you, on average, $200,000 to $300,000 dollars. Even if you win the case and don't have to pay damages to the copyright, that's a lot of money to spend on defending yourself.
     
  20. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    At some point, I will. But as of right now I cannot afford any legal council that is not free. I am flat broke and unemployed, which would be a perfect time to write, and it would be helpful if I could write having some notion I won't have to redact huge chunks of the work to be considered for publication.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Why not just write your own story without taking on the characters and other potentially-protected aspects of the other writings? Seems to me you could write the stories you are talking about without appropriating potentially-protected material from the original source.
     
  22. CSwolery
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    CSwolery Member

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    Well that's a question that comes up a lot. The best way I can put it is that my inspiration is a part of a story I didn't like, and it acts like a gravity that focuses my creative energies. Now! Point of importance: the more I get into a project, the more mine it becomes. For instance, if you are familiar with Masquerade, there's a super organization for Vampires called the Camarilla which is arbitrary, lethal, and lawfully evil that's barely lawful. My Camarilla has a whole different backstory (fall of Rome versus mass rebellion by young vamps), it's a lawful neutral organization with trial by jury, some democratic features, ward laws, and they make a real attempt to have a place for all vampires by means other than 'do what I say or I'll kill you.' I would argue that my Camarilla is like Masquerade's Camarilla only insofar as it has the same name. It's that different of a beast. Masquerade’s Camarilla is clearly my inspiration, but I don't want my Cam to be a knockoff because I want to take it in a direction the Masquerade version just wouldn't do. If I toy with any copyrighted concept long enough, it will become unrecognizable from what it originally was. But I need to know how far it needs to be away before I can think about stopping.

    Then there's the issue of pop art. I've noticed that real conversation requires the use of many, many pop culture references. I want to have a scene where my vampire and her thrall get high on marijuana (the mechanics are not important here), and are watching Spongebob Squarepants reruns at 6 AM, singing the theme song in time with the actual show. I’ve been told it’s an absurdly funny scene, but if I can’t have them quoting the first couple of lines from the showing’s theme song, I may not be able to write it at all. And this is supposed to be set in a parallel universe that where everything is mostly the same, but it’s the same for totally different reasons.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it would be nice if we could do a lot of things... unfortunately, in the real world, things like this are not doable as easily as you would wish... so, it seems to me you have 3 choices:

    1.go ahead and write whatever you want, with the knowledge that you can't show it to even a single person without risking being sued...

    2.save up a consulting fee and ask a literary attorney what you can and can't get away with writing...

    3.don't use any copyrighted material at all in your book...
     
  24. CSwolery
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    OK, I figured something like that. How can I tell what is copyrighted and what isn't? For instance, in the vamp story I want to do, the super-org of vampires is the Camarilla. Just like the one in Masquerade. The name in and of itself cannot be copyright because Camarilla is a real term roughly meaning kitchen cabinet. The way my Cam works is very, VERY different, its backstory is different, it's essential real world functions are much different. Then too, are the clans. I like the notion of clan structure, and clans make sense as caucusing tools. I want the general concept of the clans, but of course they will have to be renamed from Masquerade, as most of the names wouldn't make sense anyway. For instance the insane Malkavians are replaced with the (equally insane) Oracles, where their clairvoyance is correlated with their madness. OTOH, the Toreadors are replaced with the Troubadours, which are basically the same concept as of now. I'll work on it. I like the Masquerade notion of disciplines, that certain skills flow in certain lines, and this prevents easy 'power gaming' by players. This power gaming would be used by characters too, so the disciplines act as a brake on the ambitious, young and stupid. I find these concepts useful, so it’s not driven by a desire to knock off, but to take the concepts and run with them in a whole nother direction.
     
  25. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then if the Camarilla in another work is very very different from the one planned in yours, but the name is a possible concern, wouldn't the logical answer be to create a name for your vampire organization?
     

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