1. wouldbepublisher
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    wouldbepublisher New Member

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    Publishing Out of Copy-write Works

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by wouldbepublisher, Jul 23, 2011.

    Publishing Out of Copyright Works

    First off, I'm not a writer, I'm more of a creative minded marketing guy so my apologies for potentially being in the wrong place. However, I thought this might just be the kind of forum where I'd get the best answers to my questions.

    I've been searching for a small marketing project to start on the side. I love the creative business and always wanted to work in this area. After contemplating exactly how to start for awhile, I came across the world of books that have fallen out of copyright (expired). Since I'm just wanting to put my toe in the water here, I find these types of works attractive. It would be much simpler not having to partner with anyone and avoiding the mess of differing personalities and goals etc.

    I've read up on it a bit, but have more questions regarding this area and how best to handle different situations. So here's my initial idea and if you like, please pull it apart and tell me why I can't do this, thanks!

    I find an novel or short story that is out of copyright protection, I update the language (since it was probably written 100yrs ago), give the characters new names, re-title, re-edit, re-illustrate the book and re-publish it in some form. Depending on how long it is, maybe I even cut it up into smaller parts and re-release them individually. Now granted, this is very much like one of those big corporations swooping in and buying up a smaller company, laying everyone off and then breaking it up into pieces and selling it, but it also gives the work new life. After reading a few parts of some old books like these, I'm already very suspicious that Hollywood doesn't repackage old stories like this as some movies seem to follow them exactly.

    First question is, can I do this? Next question, if I make these changes does this make it a new work or an adaptation of the old, how do you classify this type of "touch up"? I'm thinking it should be possible to copyright the new illustration of the characters, but can you re-copyright/trademark any parts of the new work to keep someone from simply re-printing this new edition?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes you can do it.

    You will have copyright protection for the new written material, assuming there are sufficient changes in it. You can't ever gain protection over the original work, of course, but you can stop people reproducing your new edition (again, assuming you've changed it enough).

    The new drawings will be protected by copyright.

    You might have trademark protection associated with the work, but that's a bit trickier. You have actually use some word or phrase as a trademark in association with the work. If you are doing a series of these, you could come up with an over-arching trademark to cover them all.

    Note: It's copyright, not copy-write :)
     
  3. wouldbepublisher
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    wouldbepublisher New Member

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    Copyright, yes it's Saturday morning and the brain isn't working 100%.

    Thanks for the info! I assume you still need to attribute the work to the original author in some way? I think I'd do it on moral grounds alone.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Legally, you probably don't even need to attribute. I can't think of a legal claim that could be brought against you for a work that old if you failed to do so (at least in the U.S.). Morally, though, I agree with you, and I would do it. Also, I think you're get a better reception from readers, most of whom will know of the original work unless it is something obscure.

    There are legal provisions regarding an author's moral rights, particularly in Europe, but I don't know that they extent to such old works and long-dead authors.
     
  5. foxanthony
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    foxanthony Member

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    Legally? Sure why not? But why would people want that? I guess I'm asking what is your marketing angle? It's hard enough to sell original fiction why are people going to buy stuff they can get from Project Gutenberg? I'll understand if this is a secret.
     
  6. wouldbepublisher
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    wouldbepublisher New Member

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    Well, I'll just say that I think it's old, but likely quality content that can be refreshed and re-packaged for a modern audience in multiple of ways.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i still don't see any market for this... can you give us an example?
     
  8. wouldbepublisher
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    wouldbepublisher New Member

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    Well this doesn't go to the heart of the value that I think still lives in these, but ask yourself a simple question, "Do people still buy copies of Alice In Wonderland or The Bible?" If the answer is yes, then there are still dollars flowing to these works long after their original publication and someone is profiting from them... well maybe someone is doing the bible as a non-profit thing, but you get the idea.

    Your comment above would be like telling Hollywood and Johnny Depp to not bother making that Alice in Wonderland Movie because everyone has already read the book and knows the ending so there's no market in it...
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If it is cleverly done, I think there will be a market. People have been making money by taking classics and rewriting them just a bit to throw in werewolves and zombies. It's all going to come down to the specifics of how it is done (and how well).
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you really want to know the potential legal ramifications, you really should consult a literary attorney.

    If you think small changes will suffice to create a new, salable work of fiction from a classic, I believe you are in for an ice water wakeup splash.

    Personally, if I am to read a classic, I'd much rather read the untainted original. I would probably settle for a good translation into English, but only out of necessity.

    I personally find what you seem to be proposing rather distasteful, and would have no part in it. As for the legality of it, however, my initial recommendation stands.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but i'm with cog on this... in toto!
     
  12. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Isn't that basically how the whole Jane Austin Cut and Paste trend got started? Followed by "Android Kerrina" and all of the other violations of classic literature by so called "original" authors?

    Granted, I liked Pride, Prejuduice, and Zombies. After that it got old fast.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have a problem with it from a personal/moral point of view. Unless you believe copyright should last forever then at some point it is proper for a work to fall into the public domain. Once that happens, the public has free access to it as well as the ability to creative derivative works from it. That's the point of having a public domain. Copyright already lasts for a long time, so I'm not opposed to people doing whatever they want with something once the copyright expires. Doesn't mean I'll necessarily want to read it, but some people have made quite a lot of money on things like Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies, mentioned by NateSean, above. So someone must be reading them.
     
  14. wouldbepublisher
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    wouldbepublisher New Member

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    Exactly! It's like tututing someone who makes birdhouses out of old clocks (TM that idea ;-) ) or restores an old chevy with new parts and selling it. It's just taking a product which has had it's day and finding new and fresh uses for it. Get as romantic about it as you want, but there's no difference between a book and a toaster oven at some point.

    I wasn't even really looking to change the stories much, other than to update the language. If it is geared for kids then they have to be able to relate to the language in use and know what the objects are that are being discussed. A lot of the old tools from 1910 aren't in use anymore and some things need swapped out.

    I've read some of the threads around here about being a purist and pushing for a big publishing house to take your novel instead of self publishing and marketing yourself. How many authors have watched their life go by waiting for that to happen? It's sort of like telling people not so many years ago that they should forget about blogs and youtube and get a job with a real newspaper or on TV... Wake up, all media is changing and the old ways are dying, some more quickly than others.

    Why waste time with the thousands and thousands of others yelling and screaming to get into an old business model, when you can pioneer the next one right now? It's only getting easier for a strategically minded, creative, savvy individual to compete with large slow moving corporations. (I work for a corporation and it would blow your mind how incapable of change they can be.)

    There will always be the masses who are too scared to jump first and warn others not too, that's why the rewards go to the brave few who go for it!
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The same argument is used daily by opportunists who feed off the desperation and impatience of would-be writers looking for a shortcut.

    The old ways have been around a long time, and for a reason. Quality don't come easy. It takes dedication and hard work, and plenty of patience.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not following how this paragraph is related to your idea of editing old works and reselling them. Is there some connection? Are you arguing that reselling old works, and abandoning the creation of any new work, is the brave new future of publishing?

    ChickenFreak
     
  17. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    The point is, you said yourself that you're not a writer. Therefore, what you're essentially doing is scavenging someone else's work, maybe adding or subtracting something from it, then plying whatever's left as "yours" and "unique" and "real."

    While there may not be a law prohibiting your idea, there is a whole other ethical side that you have to consider. You've landed your post right smack bang into the middle of a forum where there are a considerable amount of serious writers with varying levels of publishing success and are basically flapping in front of them a means to make any of their future works (not in the immediate future, granted, but who is to say what the future holds?) seemingly not worth a squirt of piss when some opportunist can come along and tear it to pieces and glue it together like some kind of Frankenstein's Monster... and not expect some of us to disagree?

    The analogy of an old clock being created into a birdhouse isn't quite the same. But, as a self confessed "non writer," you wouldn't understand the amount of blood, sweat and tears goes into creating a written work of art. Don't forget, also, that even those works for which the copyright has expired, that an author somewhere in the past put as much effort into their creation as we are in the here and now.

    By all means, investigate and/or execute whatever plans you want. Just don't come into a forum of writers and expect all of them to give you the green light.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    So do you think copyright should last forever Batgoat?
     
  19. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    Insofar as my thinking goes, I have no issue with the copyright laws that exist. The issue I do have is the full integrity of the original piece of work and saving it from being hacked up and reused in the name of the Almighty God of Cash.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, but how far should that extend? Until you die? 100 years later? 1000 years? 10,000 years when some future archaeologist digs your remarkably well-preserved book up during an excavation?
     
  21. polarboy
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    polarboy Member

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    It's my understanding that if you take a piece of work that is already in the public domain and then retranslate the work (even if it's from old English to modern English), then typically your specific retranslation/reinterpretation is copyrighted to you. This happens a lot with Shakespeare.

    Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello, for example, are still in the public domain--but the specific word changes made to the text for the script of a film or student edition of the text can get new copyright.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that's true if the changes are significant enough.

    I mean, at some point it has to get ridiculous, right? Consider:

    "Star date nine-nine-four-three-nine-eight point one. Captain Jetsam Krik reporting. We've just discovered a most unusual volume in the ruins of old Earth. A smashing good story, except for the noticeable lack of Gurlong creatures from the cloud jungles of Anatares VI, so popular with kids these days.

    I think I'll modernize it and republish it with the creatures and finally retire off this damn boat. Wait a minute...what's that noise...is that a visage of the author come to haunt me? I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o’the dead
    may walk again. Aiiieeee!"

    And so our intrepid Captain learns only too late the fruits of altering the hard-wrought work of past authors.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You didn't ask me, but I decided to answer anyway. :)

    I actually think that the present copyright term is too long, and I'm angry every time they extend it again.

    I think that copyright should expire so that people can make something truly new out of old ideas. I love, for example, what Laurie King has done with Sherlock Holmes. I'd be pleased if it became legal, not too far in the future, to similarly play with the character of James Bond. I enjoy the way that _A Christmas Carol_ and _It's A Wonderful Life_ have been reused over and over and over. And so on and so on.

    But the original poster doesn't seem to be proposing the creation of something truly new, one inspired by joy in the greatness or the delightful quirks of what was old. It instead seems to be a way to produce a salable product by using the efforts of someone long dead, without putting any appreciable effort or creativitiy into making a new work. So I disapprove. But I still think that it should be legal.

    ChickenFreak
     
  24. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    That was the point I was trying to stress.
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't really make much difference to me, if it is out of copyright.

    Inventors also put unbelievable time, money, blood, sweat, and tears into their work, but I don't see anyone suggesting that once something is invented, the inventor his his heirs should have complete control over the invention in perpetuity and that not one else should ever be able to "morally" alter or improve on it.
     

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