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  1. bdw8
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    bdw8 Member

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    Copyright law and including a researcher's theory?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by bdw8, Feb 3, 2016.

    While writing my historical fiction, I've included mostly well-known facts that can be found in a variety of published sources. However, one bit of research I'd like to include is one particular (living) historian's theory of a historical event. There's no shortage of theories on this subject out there, but his theory (1) seems to be one of the most likely and well-supported theories, and (2) fits with my story almost perfectly (I've done quite a bit of research myself).

    He also happens to be a renowned authority on the subject, who's published books on this topic and presented this theory in several documentaries (featured by the Smithsonian, National Geographic, etc). But no matter where I learn about this theory, he's clearly the one who came up with it.

    Obviously, if this was a work of fiction, I couldn't use it without his permission. (I wouldn't be interested, anyways.) But, since he's promoting this as a legitimate theory, does that change things?

    I admittedly know very little about copyright law, but from my research it seems that facts can't be copyrighted. (Source: http://bit.ly/1Pe1Mrx) But, when does a theory become a fact? As this event happened over a thousand years ago, we probably won't ever be able to definitively prove his theory right or wrong.

    So, is this fair game to use? Or, do I need to try to get his permission? (I'm afraid he'll laugh if I ask, as not only am I an unknown writer, but I'd be using his theory in a work of fiction similar to The Da Vinci Code.)
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For a proper answer, you'd need to consult a proper lawyer as a proper client.

    I don't think that it's at all obvious that you couldn't use this theory even if it were fiction. But since it's not, I suppose that doesn't matter.

    My guess is that it's not copyrightable. The general idea is that you can't copyright facts OR ideas; the thing you can copyright is the expression of ideas. But, proper lawyer.

    (Grabbing ideas can and does run you into plagiarism, but this doesn't sound like a situation where that would apply.)
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is what Dan Brown did to get sued by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Brown won as the court in the UK said there was no infringement.
     
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  4. bdw8
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    bdw8 Member

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    Thanks for the responses! I was hoping the answer wouldn't be too complex. I think for now I'll proceed with caution, and consult a lawyer before I fully commit to this path.

    While I was vaguely aware of the controversy surrounding The DaVinci Code, I didn't realize just how much he had copied -- thanks for bringing that up! However, the comparison may be a bit inaccurate... My story stands on its own with or without this theory. It would be a fun bit to include given its plausibility and connection to real facts, but really any theory will do -- it just needs to be wrapped up in a bit of mystery for the characters to solve, to get them from point A to point B. Unlike The DaVinci code vs Holy Blood, Holy Grail, in my story the central premise, conflict, setting, etc are all original.
     

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