Cameos and Copyright

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J. Wells

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Jan 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/23/99
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This will come across as being a bit premature, I'm certain, considering
that I'm just beginning to learn Inform (ergo, nowhere near being able to
churn out a polished game of any length), but while I'm thinking about it,
I might as well ask...

I'm thinking about game design, and the sort of things that pique me as a
writer, and I am forced to admit that I'm really (perhaps overly) fond of
cameo appearances, especially when it comes to setting entire stories
around the life of minor characters in established works (think Stoppard's
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"). Same with setting alternative
stories in established "universes" (i.e. the Galactic Union from
Planetfall and Stationfall). Now, for any of the amateur and shareware
works written after the fall of the Golden Age, it would only be polite
for me to drop a line to the author asking permission to use their
characters / settings. But if someone _did_, say, want to write a game in
Meretzky's "Planetfall" universe (Don't worry, I ain't _touching_ the
major characters...) where would that one person go to ask permission? And
is permission of this sort strictly necessary in an amateur work as long
as I credit my source six ways from Sunday?

Just curious, I'm almost certain that such questions have come up before,
but I couldn't find a "derivative works" section in the FAQ, so I thought,
as I am wont to do, what the heck.

Yours with an inordinate number of parentheses,
--Lluth/J.C.Wells


Erik Max Francis

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Jan 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/23/99
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"J. Wells" wrote:

> I'm thinking about game design, and the sort of things that pique me
> as a
> writer, and I am forced to admit that I'm really (perhaps overly)
> fond of
> cameo appearances, especially when it comes to setting entire stories
> around the life of minor characters in established works (think
> Stoppard's
> "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"). Same with setting
> alternative
> stories in established "universes" (i.e. the Galactic Union from
> Planetfall and Stationfall). Now, for any of the amateur and
> shareware
> works written after the fall of the Golden Age, it would only be
> polite
> for me to drop a line to the author asking permission to use their
> characters / settings.

More than just polite. Writing stories set concretely in other writers'
universes or using other writers' characters is copyright infringement,
since it falls under a derivative work.

Now I say _concretely_ there because if there is no immediate, direct
evidence that the two stories _are_ related, then you're probably okay.
Subtly _hinting_ won't get you into trouble, but it sounds like your
goal is to make it _clear_ that this story is set in this other writers'
universe or contains other writers' characters, so you're probably way
over the line.

> But if someone _did_, say, want to write a game in
> Meretzky's "Planetfall" universe (Don't worry, I ain't _touching_ the
> major characters...) where would that one person go to ask
> permission?

You would have to get written permission from the copyright holder. The
issue here is, though, you're very unlikely to get it, since it's
generally in a copyright owner's best interest to say no to such
request.

> And
> is permission of this sort strictly necessary in an amateur work as
> long
> as I credit my source six ways from Sunday?

Yes, it is. If you don't do it, it's copyright infringement.

Now, yes, the question of how likely you are to get sued will come up.
The problem is, "It's an amateur work" or "I didn't know the law" aren't
defenses, and the copyright owner is under no obligation to be kind and
send you a cease and desist order first -- you could be taken directly
to court without a chance to back down.

> Just curious, I'm almost certain that such questions have come up
> before,
> but I couldn't find a "derivative works" section in the FAQ, so I
> thought,
> as I am wont to do, what the heck.

Copyright discussions have popped up on this newsgroup from time to
time, but I don't recall this particular question having been asked
before.

--
Erik Max Francis / email m...@alcyone.com / whois mf303 / icq 16063900
Alcyone Systems / irc maxxon (efnet) / finger m...@finger.alcyone.com
San Jose, CA / languages En, Eo / web http://www.alcyone.com/max/
USA / icbm 37 20 07 N 121 53 38 W / &tSftDotIotE
\
/ Love's the only reason why we all keep living
/ Oleta Adams

Jon Petersen

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Jan 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/23/99
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Not sure if he's working there anymore, but Laird Malamed of Activision
gave his position on such use (except for Zork stuff, not Planetfall
stuff) a while back. See:

http://x9.dejanews.com/getdoc.xp?AN=323019374&CONTEXT=917126742.94044232&hitnum=14

HTH. HAND!

Jon

J. Wells wrote:
>
> This will come across as being a bit premature, I'm certain, considering
> that I'm just beginning to learn Inform (ergo, nowhere near being able to
> churn out a polished game of any length), but while I'm thinking about it,
> I might as well ask...
>

> I'm thinking about game design, and the sort of things that pique me as a
> writer, and I am forced to admit that I'm really (perhaps overly) fond of
> cameo appearances, especially when it comes to setting entire stories
> around the life of minor characters in established works (think Stoppard's
> "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"). Same with setting alternative
> stories in established "universes" (i.e. the Galactic Union from
> Planetfall and Stationfall). Now, for any of the amateur and shareware
> works written after the fall of the Golden Age, it would only be polite
> for me to drop a line to the author asking permission to use their

> characters / settings. But if someone _did_, say, want to write a game in


> Meretzky's "Planetfall" universe (Don't worry, I ain't _touching_ the

> major characters...) where would that one person go to ask permission? And


> is permission of this sort strictly necessary in an amateur work as long
> as I credit my source six ways from Sunday?
>

> Just curious, I'm almost certain that such questions have come up before,
> but I couldn't find a "derivative works" section in the FAQ, so I thought,
> as I am wont to do, what the heck.
>

Stacy the Procrastinating

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Jan 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/23/99
to
On Sat, 23 Jan 1999, Erik Max Francis wrote:

> "J. Wells" wrote:

<snip>

> > But if someone _did_, say, want to write a game in
> > Meretzky's "Planetfall" universe (Don't worry, I ain't _touching_ the
> > major characters...) where would that one person go to ask
> > permission?
>

> You would have to get written permission from the copyright holder. The
> issue here is, though, you're very unlikely to get it, since it's
> generally in a copyright owner's best interest to say no to such
> request.
>

> > And
> > is permission of this sort strictly necessary in an amateur work as
> > long
> > as I credit my source six ways from Sunday?
>

> Yes, it is. If you don't do it, it's copyright infringement.
>
> Now, yes, the question of how likely you are to get sued will come up.
> The problem is, "It's an amateur work" or "I didn't know the law" aren't
> defenses, and the copyright owner is under no obligation to be kind and
> send you a cease and desist order first -- you could be taken directly
> to court without a chance to back down.

It's also been pretty well established, though, that no one is going to
get bent out of shape about an amatuer work of what is essentially
fanfiction. Even major, lawsuit-loving copywright holders like the owners
of Star Trek and the X-Files, which are both pretty zealous
about
protecting their property and sending lawyers after those using it in
unauthorized ways, have all but given their blessing to text-only,
non-commercial works. (Even questionably commercial stuff, like non-profit
fanzines, have been flourishing for years with no objections.) If you
happen to be able to find an e-mail address for the owner of the work you
want to use, great, drop an email, but if not I really don't think it's
morally wrong or legally dangerous to pay hommage to the greats by
borrowing a character or two, while clearly acknowledging the original
author.

-stacy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
bookbug of the brower's bookweb
http://bookweb.simplenet.com
* to reply to this message, cut the animal out of the address *


Mary K. Kuhner

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Jan 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/24/99
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It's worth noting, rather than speculating about whether companies
in general will give permission for fan-fic or not, that
Activision *does*: "Space Station Transcript" from Comp98
and, if I recall correctly, "A Bear's Night Out" from Comp97
both involve material from Infocom games. Both authors properly
asked permission from Activision, and both got it. ("Bear"
also had material from other games, again with permission asked
for and received.)

There's no reason not to ask--it avoids the whole fuss, and
experience suggests that for non-profit games you'll probably
get permission.

Mary Kuhner mkku...@genetics.washington.edu

Branko Collin

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Jan 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/24/99
to
On Sat, 23 Jan 1999 12:50:22 -0800, Erik Max Francis <m...@alcyone.com>
wrote:

>"J. Wells" wrote:
>
[can I use copyrighted characters or universes, for instance from
infocom games?]


>
>You would have to get written permission from the copyright holder. The
>issue here is, though, you're very unlikely to get it, since it's
>generally in a copyright owner's best interest to say no to such
>request.

Except for Infocom-games, as has been stated in other postings in this
thread.

>> Just curious, I'm almost certain that such questions have come up
>> before, but I couldn't find a "derivative works" section in the
>> FAQ, so I thought, as I am wont to do, what the heck.
>

>Copyright discussions have popped up on this newsgroup from time to
>time, but I don't recall this particular question having been asked
>before.

I believe there was a thread about using the Sherlock Holmes universe
some time ago.

I also seem to remember someone mentioning that some rights on Mickey
Mouse were about to expire.

--
branko
-- ik maak alles stuk

J. Robinson Wheeler

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Jan 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM1/24/99
to
Mary K. Kuhner wrote:
>
> It's worth noting, rather than speculating about whether companies
> in general will give permission for fan-fic or not, that
> Activision *does*: "Space Station Transcript" from Comp98
> and, if I recall correctly, "A Bear's Night Out" from Comp97
> both involve material from Infocom games.

The former is especially relevant, as it was set in the Planetfall/
Stationfall universe, and involved objects and what one might call
set design from those games. (It was, as its title suggests, based
on the example transcript included in the game documentation.) The
author did receive permission from Activision to distribute it by
way of the 1998 Competition.

So, it shows that it is possible to do.

--
J. Robinson Wheeler
whe...@jump.net http://www.jump.net/~wheeler/jrw/home.html

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