1. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Sep 24, 2009
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    Alabama, USA

    Reimagining Public Domain characters. Acceptable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Aug 10, 2014.

    OK, let's say that, hypothetically, I wanted to write a historic mystery novel set in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol universe with the protagonist being that kid Ebenezer Scrooge talks to on Christmas Morning (the 'It's Christmas Day, sir!' kid for those who haven't read A Christmas Carol.) Naturally, I would want to include Tiny Tim and his family, perhaps even making Tiny Tim and this kid friends. Let's suppose best friends with Tiny Tim serving the role of a mentor/brother-figure for the kid.

    I know there's a Sherlock Holmes TV series that reimagines Waston as a woman, but could a writer be able to get away with this scenario I constructed? Tiny Tim's still the same, only it's a few years after A Christmas Carol, he's a bit more mature (whether he'll still have the crutch or not is a question I'd have to figure out), a bit more wiser. Scrooge is in it, only he's nicer and serves as a mentor/grandfather-figure for Tiny Tim. Maybe to carry on the theme of ghosts of the past, maybe the kid also has a past he's not willing to discuss. Not that he has a ghost hounding him or anything, it's metaphorical.

    What do you think? What is acceptable/not acceptable when it comes to reimagining Public Domain characters? So long as it sticks to the original theme, lore, and setting of the original work, it should be fine, no? But here's the thing: in the Sherlock Holmes TV series, they completely changed the setting, Waston, and time period. The original was set in mid-late 1880s Britain if I remember, and this is set in modern day New York. How did they get away with it, and with another Sherlock Holmes modern-day version set in Britain? I prefer the latter than the former, because if you're going to change the setting entirely, you may as well make your own original story featuring a plucky British inspector in modern-day New York. You can change the characters, the time period, that sort of thing, but the setting has to remain the same.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
  2. Ulramar

    Ulramar Contributor Contributor

    May 6, 2014
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    My own fantasy world, living the good life
    I assume yes, but I'd consult a lawyer.

    Also: http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2012/faqs

    My brief skim of it looked useful. I think it says you can adapt but I may have misread.
  3. Jack Asher

    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

    Sep 4, 2013
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    Here's what's up with that. Steven Moffat (of Coupling and Doctor Who) went to the estate of Conan Doyle and asked their permission to use Sherlock Holmes. They agreed and the BBC made Sherlock.
    Then CBS went to the BBC and asked if they could adapt Sherlock for American TV a la The Office and Being Human.

    The BBC was all, "No, get your own Sherlock Holmes, oh wait, you do. It's House."

    And CBS was all, "Fine, we didn't want Sherlock anyway. We're going to make our own show. With black jack! And hookers!" And they also got permission to use all the characters.

    Now as far as Dickens is concerned, I think there's some thorny stuff here because copyright law is different in the UK. I'd say at the very least you could use it here in the states, because the American companies that published it have long since left it in the public domain. As far as I understand it, CBS didn't actually need permission, because under American law the work passes into the public domain after 75 years of the progenitor's death*.

    *there are a couple of stories that won't be in the public domain until 2022. For that you can blame Disney, but that a whole other fucking thing.
    Ulramar likes this.

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