Classic Cameos #Writing #Author #Advice

“Hi Jim,

I’m currently writing a story dealing with fantasy characters. I wanted to include a couple of classical fantasy characters in my story. I was wondering if you had any advice about how to go about this? I don’t want to get sued by their owners.

Thanks,
Jeremy J.”

Hi Jeremy,

Hi Jeremy, by classical, I assume you’re talking about the creative works of people like the Brother’s Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc?

If so, you’re in luck, most of those characters fall under public domain.

“Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.” Wiki

The standard rule, at least in the United States, is that pre-1923 works are in the public domain. This is… mostly correct, however, determining whether a work has entered the public domain or is still under copyright can be a lot more difficult than this, mostly because copyright terms have been extended multiple times and in different ways. At first, it was a fixed term based on the year of publication with a renewal term, to a term extending to fifty to seventy years after the death of the author. So the claim above is correct FOR PUBLISHED WORKS. Unpublished works fall under Federal Copyright laws and extend to the life of the author + 70 years.

This can differ in other countries, so check your local copyright laws or, as always, consult and attorney.

The best advice I would give is to read the stories that surround the characters thoroughly. I say this because most of those classical characters have been used in movies by Disney or have been adapted and rewritten in other versions. DO NOT JUST USE THE NAMES AND ATTRIBUTES YOU KNOW THE MOST!! I can’t stress that enough.
Why? Because if were to put the dwarves from Snow White into the story and use the names from Disney (Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey), you will get sued. Those names are not original to the story and are the intellectual property of the Disney Corporation.

Like I said, know your story, know your characters and know what you’re writing. Often times, taking a little creative license with these characters is not only warranted, but 100% necessary to keep the work from treading into intellectual property waters.

Lastly, please remember, I am not an attorney. I have studied the laws, having been published myself, but even I don’t know all of the nuances. My words are for advice purposes only. If you find yourself in a bit of gray area, PLEASE consult an attorney. A little money now is a lot better than being sued for a lot later and I take no responsibility if don’t.

Any thoughts from the reader base? Further advice for Jeremy?


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have multiple published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Note:
If you have read my books, PLEASE log into Amazon and post a review. I really love to hear everyone’s thoughts and constructive criticisms. Reviews help get my book attention and word of mouth is everything in this business!

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

Classic Cameos

“Hi Jim,

I’m currently writing a story dealing with fantasy characters. I wanted to include a couple of classical fantasy characters in my story. I was wondering if you had any advice about how to go about this? I don’t want to get sued by their owners.

Thanks,
Jeremy J.”

Hi Jeremy,

Hi Jeremy, by classical, I assume you’re talking about the creative works of people like the Brother’s Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc?

If so, you’re in luck, most of those characters fall under public domain.

“Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.” Wiki

The standard rule, at least in the United States, is that pre-1923 works are in the public domain. This is… mostly correct, however, determining whether a work has entered the public domain or is still under copyright can be a lot more difficult than this, mostly because copyright terms have been extended multiple times and in different ways. At first, it was a fixed term based on the year of publication with a renewal term, to a term extending to fifty to seventy years after the death of the author. So the claim above is correct FOR PUBLISHED WORKS. Unpublished works fall under Federal Copyright laws and extend to the life of the author + 70 years.

This can differ in other countries, so check your local copyright laws or, as always, consult and attorney.

The best advice I would give is to read the stories that surround the characters thoroughly. I say this because most of those classical characters have been used in movies by Disney or have been adapted and rewritten in other versions. DO NOT JUST USE THE NAMES AND ATTRIBUTES YOU KNOW THE MOST!! I can’t stress that enough.
Why? Because if were to put the dwarves from Snow White into the story and use the names from Disney (Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey), you will get sued. Those names are not original to the story and are the intellectual property of the Disney Corporation.

Like I said, know your story, know your characters and know what you’re writing. Often times, taking a little creative license with these characters is not only warranted, but 100% necessary to keep the work from treading into intellectual property waters.

Lastly, please remember, I am not an attorney. I have studied the laws, having been published myself, but even I don’t know all of the nuances. My words are for advice purposes only. If you find yourself in a bit of gray area, PLEASE consult an attorney. A little money now is a lot better than being sued for a lot later and I take no responsibility if don’t.

Any thoughts from the reader base? Further advice for Jeremy?


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!
Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

Fictional Story, Non-fictional People

“Hi Jim,

I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now, and am hoping that you can offer me some advice. I am working on a piece of historical fiction and want to write in some historical characters. These characters would mostly be supporting roles, but I might make one of them a lead. The issue is that some of their family members are most likely still around (this story takes place in WW2). I don’t want to be disrespectful to them, and I definitely don’t want to get sued. How should I approach this?

Thanks,
Kimberly”

Hi Kimberly,

That one is a tall order. A really tall order. Well first of all, I’d advise you to DO YOUR RESEARCH! Make every effort to get the facts right about the person. Learn about their lives, the choices they made, and as much about their personality as possible before you write these characters in. This is a fictional piece, but even so, when you write historical fiction, YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO GET THE HISTORICAL PART RIGHT!!

Next thing I would say to be careful of is if and how you portray someone in a negative light. Again, facts. Go with what you know to be historically accurate. Now should you choose to make one of your historical characters a villain… that’s where things get dicey. In my book, Divinity, I portrayed Pope Leo X as one of my villains, but it was mostly because of his political/spiritual views, which were historically accurate. Plus I had the advantage that most of my historical character are 400+ years old and most of their family lines have long since died out.

You on the other hand are writing about characters that are still fresh in people’s memories. You can’t libel the dead (at least not in the U.S.) so don’t worry about that so much, but there are other avenues that people can take to block your writing or sue. Other things like invasion of privacy can come up.

A good example of this would be back in 2011 when lawyers for the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien sent a cease and desist letter to author Steve Hillard. They claimed that his novel Mirkwood violated the Tolkien Estate’s right of publicity because, among other reasons, Hillard depicted Tolkien as a character in his book. Hillard of course fought back, but this is really hot water you don’t want to get yourself into.

My personal advice would be to alter the characters. Create fictional ones based on the people you want to use, at the very least if you’re going to be portraying them in a negative light. Then make sure that you put a disclaimer at the front of your book letting people know that it’s a work of fiction. You want to cover yourself as much as possible.

But Jim, I really want this to be as historically accurate as possible. I really want to use the real people. (potential response)

In that case, I would do two things;

First, write your book out. Get everything out on paper so you have your ideas down. At this point, I would consider reaching out to said family members (if you can locate them), and ask them about their relative. Tell them what you’re trying to write and see where it goes. I’ve found that family members of a historical person are usually more than willing to share their info. If however they’re not, then I would seriously consider going back to what I said about changing the character to a fictional one.

Secondly, when all is said and done, consider having a lawyer look over your work. I’m not kidding. A couple of hundred dollars now to have a lawyer look over everything may seem daunting, but it’s better than getting in legal trouble later.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, be respectful, be accurate, and be VERY careful with how you go about this. Lawsuits for this type of thing are rare considering how many books are published these days, but they do happen.

Good luck, friend. Please feel free to email me again if you need me to elaborate on anything I’ve said.

I’d also invite my readers to venture an opinion as well as to what Kimberly should do in this case.


Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!
Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim