If the works that contain that character are *all* in the public domain,
then you *should* be okay. So, Sherlock Holmes, Ebeneezer Scrooge,
and Ishmael are all safe. However, if 1) some of the original author's
works are still protected by copyright or 2) if the copyrights have
been transferred to a new owner and have been kept up to date, then
you're going to have trouble. For example, Fu Manchu is still under
protection because while the first book about him came out in 1916,
other books were released as late as the 1950s and Sax Rohmer's estate
signed over limited use permissions to Marvel Comics in the 70s.
IOW, see a lawyer if you're serious about this.
John Switzer | "For too long, those who play by the rules and
| keep the faith have gotten the shaft, and those
CompuServe: 74076,1250 | who cut corners and cut deals have been rewarded."
Internet: j...@netcom.com | -- Bill Clinton, 1992 Democratic Convention
> Hi, I have just started dabbling with various adventure game builders,
>and I have a legality question.
> If I use copyrighted character(s), what permission, if any , do I
>need to obtain? These games would be freeware, btw.
> For instance, there is a game called Alice, created using AGT.
>The author put "Based on characters by Lewis Carroll", but I didn't
>see any other notice. If someone could clear this up, that would
>be great. Thanks.
Alice in Wonderland is out of copyright, being more than 50 years after
the author's death. Anything that is still in copyright, you can't use
the characters without permission, so if you want to use characters from
a contemporary book, the best thing to do is to forget about it. Sorry
"To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem"
Russell Wallace, Trinity College, Dublin
Unless something new happened in the very recent past, Sherlock
Holmes is _not_ 'safe'. The reason they stopped doing Sherlock Holmes/
Moriarity stories on Star Trek:The Next Generation was because of some
legal hassle from the Doyle estate. That was worked out (I presume TNG paid
for some usage) and then they had Moriarity back (once?) since then.
unk...@apple.com Apple II Forever
These opinions are mine, not Apple's.
There are a number of works by Doyle freely available from wiretap.spies.com.
Make of this what you will...
If anyone is interested, the URL is:
I should have pointed out that Sherlock Holmes is one of the weird ones -
certain incarnations are "public domain" while others are not. Literature
use of Holmes might be safe although the estate might dispute it, but
TV and movie use is far shakier, in part because of the numerous
movie use of Holmes from WWII on and the "authorized" TV use such as
the British series. STTNG probably could have gotten away with their
use of Holmes, had they wanted to spend millions in legal battles,
but it would have been a pyrhic victory obviously.
Unless the author has been dead 50 years, this is illegal even if
no money changes hands, I believe. Alice and Sherlock Holmes are
examples of this (I think). James Bond and Superman probably aren't.
An interesting example is the wish-fulfillment exercise on alt.fan.pern,
where grown users pretend to be dragonriders, mate with each other, lead
weyrs and so forth in the style of Anne McCaffrey's books. There is
a complicated legal position on this (advertised in the FAQ there) which
I think amounts to: characters are copyright, and can't be used;
so are specific places, e.g. Benden Weyr in the books; but
the idea of having dragons on some quite different planet is not.
I suspect her publishers are being generous in allowing this much
leeway, and wouldn't if there was money involved.
>And that copyright is only on the original work, not the
>copyrighted characters. If the author (or valid copyright holder) continues
>to churn out works with that character, they can keep him under
I wonder, is this really a copyright on a character, or is it a trademarked
name? The eternal protection is provided to trademarks. Also consider that
if the Bond family has a new baby boy they name "James" they don't have to
pay a royalty for use of the name, yet when James grows up and starts up
his "James Bond Agent Agency" he could be sued for trademark infringment.
>Thus, if James Gardner keeps on writing Bond
>books and Broccoli keeps making Bond movies, James Bond won't go
>public domain until the 22nd century, if then.
God, let's hope not! :-)
Standard Disclaimers Apply
In the U.S., a new work retains its copyright for the author's life plus
75 years. And that copyright is only on the original work, not the
copyrighted characters. If the author (or valid copyright holder) continues
to churn out works with that character, they can keep him under
protection forever. Thus, if James Gardner keeps on writing Bond
books and Broccoli keeps making Bond movies, James Bond won't go
public domain until the 22nd century, if then.
I believe this is false, at least in the UK; you're allowed to trade
under your own name even if it infringes someone else's copyright (but
you're not allowed to gratuitously change your name for trading
You've got to be _very_ careful (although it's unlikely anyone will sting
you with a law suit, unless you start making bucks). Anyway, it's far
more fun to create your own characters and situations.
Imagine how dull Shakespeare would have been if he had pinched all the
plots and characters from other people's stories? Hmm, on second
Graham Cluley ham...@cix.compulink.co.uk
43 Old Mill Gardens Author of shareware adventures
Berkhamsted Herts UK HUMBUG and JACARANDA JIM.
>> If I use copyrighted character(s), what permission, if any , do I
>>need to obtain? These games would be freeware, btw.
There's a problem here - perhaps it is only one of terminology.
Copyright covers the right to publish and distribute a literary work.
It may be possible to protect literary characters, but I doubt that it
is copyright that is involved. Can anyone clear this up?
>the author's death. Anything that is still in copyright, you can't use
>the characters without permission, so if you want to use characters from
>a contemporary book, the best thing to do is to forget about it. Sorry
Asking permission is always advisable, of course. But 'forget about
it' doesn't sound very encouraging. Remember Douglas Adams and
Infocom's HHTG -- Bureaucracy was one rather unexpected result of
that. I suspect other authors may want to explore the area.
Anders Thulin a...@linkoping.trab.se 013-23 55 32
Telia Research AB, Teknikringen 2B, S-583 30 Linkoping, Sweden
It is true in the US (at least in some cases, I don't know the fine
points). I remember reading that the third Gallo brother (other than
Ernest and Julio) is not allowed to use the family name to sell wine.
(These are producers of mass-market California wines. If you're lucky,
you've never heard of them in the UK. ;-)
Jim Edwards-Hewitt j...@visix.com Visix Software Inc.
"No, please! I've got a wife and kids! Millions of kids!"
-- Bugs Bunny
>It is true in the US (at least in some cases, I don't know the fine
>points). I remember reading that the third Gallo brother (other than
>Ernest and Julio) is not allowed to use the family name to sell wine.
>(These are producers of mass-market California wines. If you're lucky,
>you've never heard of them in the UK. ;-)
I think there's been a bit of confusion between trademark and
copyright in this discussion. They're not the same thing. Trademarks
are words and symbols and whatnot that are owned by someone or some
company. Companies can and do invest a lot of money in protecting
their trademarks through legal action. Thus you couldn't form a
company called IBM, short for Inglebert Bartleby's Machines even if
Inglebert Bartleby was your legal name because IBM would hassle you.
The Gallo case sounds like the Gallo brothers own the trademark and
the other brother doesn't. The two brothers' firm would argue that the
other brother would be benefitting unfairly from the money and effort
they've expended in promoting their name.
Companies go to extraordinary lengths to make their points... Dolby
Laboratories of noise reduction fame apparently litigated against
musician Thomas Dolby for infringing their trademark. (I think that
Thomas Dolby settled out of court, agreeing to go by "Thomas Dolby"
and not "Dolby" and agreeing never to make audio equipment) And
Lucasfilm trademarked the names of the Star Wars characters in order
to protect their use. So you can't start a company called "Darth Vader
Boots" as doing so would infringe Lucasfilm's trademark. (it's weird
to see daft character names like Chewbacca the Wookie (tm) followed by
the trademark symbol...)
Movie companies hire legions of lawyers to scour scripts of all
unlicenced references to trademarks. Steven Soderbergh once remarked
that he had to take the phrase "This conversation is loony tunes" out
of his script for sex, lies and videotape because "Loony Tunes" is a
trademark owned by Warner Bros. It gets a bit strange when a trademark
is a word or expression now in common usage, such as Coca-Cola, Xerox
or Dungeons & Dragons. You can use those trademarked names in common
speech (how could they stop you?) but you could be hassled for using
them in a published work of your own. MacWEEK magazine once got a
letter to the editor from the lawyers of the firm that owns the name
"Dungeons & Dragons." The lawyers argued that MacWEEK had used the
name to refer to a generic maze game not made by TSR Inc, and they
objected. It gets even sillier when a company trademarks a common
noun, like Apple Computer, Inc. (even more complicated in that case as
the Beatles' Apple Records have had court battles with Apple Computer.
And Apple Computer has settled out of court with McIntosh the
amplifier makers over the Macintosh (note spelling) computer name)
Copyright is different altogether. The European tradition is that
copyright is the moral right of the author to assert control over his
or her creation. The American tradition is somewhat different. But it
essentially boils down to copyright being the legal protection of the
creative expression of an idea. Under the Universal Copyright
Convention a work of literature can be copyrighted simply by writing
it down and affixing the tag "Copyright (c) <date> <your name>" to it.
You now have copyright, assuming the work was original and not a
plagiarism. (note that you can't copyright a *name* as that's too
short. You can only trademark it)
Big deal, though. As with many things in the legal system it doesn't
really amount to what your rights are - it amounts to who has the
deepest pockets and the slickest lawyers. My point? Well I guess it's
don't use characters and situations that you didn't invent in your
adventure games. The likelihood of facing a legal suit probably aren't
all that high (unless you try to make a game based on Jurassic Park or
Batman or Ninja Turtles or some other economically valuable commodity)
but why risk it? It's also surprising what things are public domain
and what aren't. It's true that something becomes public domain (ie:
freely copyable and distributable) 50 years (I think) after the
author's death, but legal weirdness involving estates and other legal
entities seems to mean that some stuff gets continued protection long
after the creator's demise. It may be apocryphal, but there's a
persistent rumour to the effect that some US firm claims it owns the
song "Happy Birthday."
Anyway, as someone else has mentioned in this discussion, it's more
fun inventing your own ideas! :) Why lift someone else's ideas?
Blah. Anyway, to cover my ass these remarks do not constitute an
informed legal opinion since I'm clearly not a lawyer. Heck, they
constitute more a collection of opinions and anecdotal remarks if
anything. Oh, and all trademarks and registered trademarks referred to
within this document are acknowledged. :)
- Neil K. (not a trademark)
Unless otherwise indicated all original text in this document is
copyright (c) 1994 Neil K. Guy.
well that one was settled a couple of years ago, which, as a side effect,
let SynthLab (a cool MIDI program) be released with System 6 on the GS.
> Copyright is different altogether. The European tradition is that
>copyright is the moral right of the author to assert control over his
>or her creation. The American tradition is somewhat different. But it
>essentially boils down to copyright being the legal protection of the
>creative expression of an idea. Under the Universal Copyright
>Convention a work of literature can be copyrighted simply by writing
>it down and affixing the tag "Copyright (c) <date> <your name>" to it.
>You now have copyright, assuming the work was original and not a
>plagiarism. (note that you can't copyright a *name* as that's too
>short. You can only trademark it)
Actually, from what I've read (urban legend warning??), the
parenthsized C has never been stated as being an acceptable substitute for the
real copyright symbol (little superscript c in a circle..).
>after the creator's demise. It may be apocryphal, but there's a
>persistent rumour to the effect that some US firm claims it owns the
>song "Happy Birthday."
I don't believe it's a US firm.. It's just a pair of people who
wrote the song. You see it actually mentioned in movie credits from time
to time. The very reason sometimes they sing "for he's a jolly good fellow"
(real name of that song??) on birthdays in movies or TV is because they don't
want to pay for the rights to that song..
Though I'm "only" 25, I presume that my memory is correct in
suggesting that the first fictional TV show to use popular music is "Happy
Days".. which has blossomed with "Miami Vice" and other shows.. Now you hear
the same music you can hear on radio stations often... but this is way off
From the Copyright FAQ (ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/misc.legal/
> A proper copyright notice consists of three things: 1) the letter "C" in
> a circle (called, logically enough, the "copyright symbol"), or the word
> "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; 2) the year of first
> publication; 3) the name of the copyright owner. 17 U.S.C. 401(b).
> Using "(C)" in place of a copyright symbol is not a good idea. To the
> best of my knowledge, no court has expressly ruled one way or another
> whether "(C)" is a sufficient substitute for a copyright symbol. One
> case, Videotronics v. Bend Electronics, 586 F.Supp. 478, 481 (D. Nev.
> 1984), implies that it is not sufficient; another, Forry v. Neundorfer,
> 837 F.2d 259, 266 (6th Cir., 1988), implies that it might be. While
> courts are generally lenient in allowing for what makes up a valid
> notice, it's best to be squarely within the statute. If you can't make a
> copyright symbol, either spell the word out, or use the "Copr."
Note that this is US law, but in any country that's a signatory to the
Berne Convention any original work is automatically copyright regardless
of whether or not the author has affixed a copyright declaration.
I understood that this was true only of unpublished works, and that
when published, a copyright notice had to be attached in order that
the copyright would still apply. Does anyone know better?
2nd Year student of Computer Science
University of Kent at Canterbury, United Kingdom, European Union.
> I understood that this was true only of unpublished works, and that
> when published, a copyright notice had to be attached in order that
> the copyright would still apply. Does anyone know better?
You could have looked in the copyright FAQ yourself, but to save you the
time and effort:
> under U.S. law, a work is copyrighted as soon as it is created. No
> notice is required to retain copyright. While most of the world has
> operated this way for some time, this is a comparatively recent change
> in U.S. copyright law
Not that FAQs are 100% authoritative, but I expect it's the best you're
going to get on the Net; if you want a more informed opinion, go to your
library, ask in misc.legal or consult your solictor.