1. adastra
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    adastra New Member

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    Legal advice - derivative work?

    Discussion in 'Self-Publishing' started by adastra, Apr 2, 2013.

    Hello all!
    I'm new to the forums and I have a question that I hope somebody answers.
    Years ago I have written several urban fantasy stories. They were generally liked, and all, and recently I was thinking about translating them to English and serializing them online.
    I have my doubts, though. During the time I was writing it, I was under the influence of an RPG setting. It's not a fanfiction; the story is original. All the characters are original. The city in which the story happens is fictional and made up by me. There is not one copyright term used. I had, however, recieved the feedback, that it is possible to figure out what I was influenced with. Actually the authors of the feedbacks were quite aggeresive about that.
    I know that US copyrights are much more strict that here in Europe and I want to know if I'd fell in trouble, trying to publish it as an ebook. After all, "The Underworld" movie got sued and all the time I hear about people suing J.K.Rowling for some undefined similarity to their works (maybe they are simply trying to get attention, because they know their claims are unfounded).
    Does it fall under the definition of derivative work? Or it's just embarassingly unoriginal, but legal and fair game? I'm not trying to create a bestseller here, but I'd like a couple of $, or even a small publisher.
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't matter what influenced your work. Every writer born has been influenced by other writers, events, and experiences in their lives. If you're not violating copyright, you're okay. Of course, anyone can sue anyone else for anything, but if that happens in all walks of life; if writers were that worried about it, there'd be no books written.
     
  3. adastra
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    adastra New Member

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    That is good to know. So, even if the world is disturbingly similar (to my readers, mileage may vary, and I have taken my measures to straighten it up, but I've heard and read all kinds of things about american lawyers), the most trouble I can get in is some people calling me names for unoriginality? Thus, I can have a grim-dark world with vampires, or the magical school full of teenagers using wands, or the archetypal dwarves in the inn (not in my story, just an example).
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Rather than getting general advice from we non-lawyers, (my apologies to forum members who are lawyers or copyright experts), you might want to just read a bit about the laws and concepts first.

    "Fanfiction Dilemma: Is it Copyright Infringement or Fair Use?" looks like a good place to start.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But the OP isn't writing fanfiction, if I read correctly. This is an original work, with original characters and setting, only influenced to some extent by an RPG.
     
  6. lettuce head
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    lettuce head Active Member

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    Not a single one of us in this forum, attorneys included, are in the position to give you legal advice without reading it first. Only then would an attorney be able to advise you. Anything less than that would be giving legal advice illegally. That is against the law. Only attorneys can do that. UPL (Unauthorized Practice of Law) is a serious affair. I was accused of such a thing before and was questioned by the Supreme Court of Ohio. It was a pain, I assure you. Seek legal counsel.

    This message is not intended as legal advice. If legal advice is needed consult an attorney.
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not really sure, exactly, what you're asking. It appears you were writing stories on a site, asked for and received feedback, and incorporated that feedback into your work. Unless you copied the suggestions, almost word for word, I'm not seeing, based on what you've written, copyright infringement issues. I suppose someone could have given you suggestions, which you incorporated, and then the person giving the suggestions could theoretically turn around and sue you for using the suggestions. Unless they gave you significant suggestions, which you used, it doesn't seem like they would have a very strong case. It would also strike me as strange that they would sue you, after specifically giving you suggestions that apparently were intended to be utilized in your story. (Unless they somehow stated at the outset that they desired some sort of collaborative agreement or credit.)

    Again, though, if you really need legal advice, you should seek the advice of an attorney who practices in this area. He or she would be able to ask more questions to better determine the facts, and whether there would be any potential issues. As was pointed out, and you acknowledge, people file baseless lawsuits all the time. So it's impossible to say you could never be sued for something. But my impression, based on what you've written above, and without knowing more of the specifics, it strikes me as unlikely.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I understood that. The point of the paper was one could see the concepts, what was too close for comfort and what qualities made something similar but not an infringement.
     
  9. adastra
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    adastra New Member

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    Thank you all. I'll certainly contact a professional, though reading through the material it seems I have done nothing illegal.
    Actually these were published on paper, by a small press. Got a couple of readers (you would laugh at the number of copies sold, but in my country it was sort of average for a beginner), a mean of three-and-a-half-to-four stars in reviews etc., nothing stellar, but a good start. Then I got an aggressive commentary online that if I ever try to translate it into English, RPG company is going to sue me. I believe one should not argue with their reviewers, as the freedom of speech ranks higher than the author's ego, so I did not pursue the topic. I was, however, much worried, thus the questions. I also did not disclose all the details in the first post because of that. Now I'm not going to abandon these works, thanks :) Anyway the subsequent stories got further and further from the setting that was the source of the influence, as I got more confident as an author.
     
  10. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Also like the others I am not a lawyer so can't coment on those aspects. However my thought would be first check out the RPG's copyrights and trademarks. They should all be registered, and if they are you should be able to find out exactly what they do and do not consider an infringement on their work.

    Also without knowing the RPG in question, look at the distinctive story / setting elements of it that they might be protective of. Then check if they have been used before elsewhere. Tolkein for example did not invent elves, so no one could be legally prevented from using the race in their work.

    Lastly, as an alternative to hiring a lawyer and going to that expense and trouble you might want to actually contact the developers of the RPG themselves and see what they think. They might say yes in which case you're in the clear. Or they might say no in which case you already know the bad news and can prepare accordingly.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wouldn't advise contacting the rpg owners... if in any doubt, consult a literary attorney in the country where you want the work to be published, not well-meaning folks on writing sites...
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think he meant this in respect to seeking their permission to use the RPG setting in the story. If they were to grant written permission to use the setting or characters or other aspects that they had created, the writer wouldn't have to worry so much about them later claiming the writer did not have permission to use those elements in his story.
     

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