Fan-Fiction-Legal

Make Sure Your Fan Fiction Is Legal (Or Regret It Later)

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Some stories involve us so deeply that they can no longer be enjoyed passively: a character or setting grabs a reader in a way that only creation can satisfy. For these readers, writing fan fiction stories featuring pre-existing aspects of other works is a fantastic outlet for their creativity and their love of a particular story.

Fan fiction stories can be incredibly high quality, after all they’re labors of love written by people who possess an encyclopedic knowledge of stories that have already been proven to work. In fact, the quality is frequently high enough to sustain entire communities who share, appreciate, and write fan fiction.

The fly in the ointment is that fan fiction deals with legally protected works. By writing stories featuring someone else’s characters, fan fiction authors are treading on risky legal ground. This is doubly the case when they publish their work for others to enjoy.

So, in this article, I’ll provide some legal facts to help fan fiction authors stay out of trouble while they create, and work in harmony with the creators of their beloved source material.

To that end, we’ll start out with the simple stuff.

The public domain

If a thing is in the public domain then it can be used freely in any work. This includes characters such as Robin Hood, Hercules, Tarzan, Dorian Grey, and Dracula (which is why there’s an almost constant stream of movies, books, and video games starring these characters). There are several ways a story can enter the public domain (the author could, for instance, give up their rights to the work), but the most common is simply the passage of time.

Public domain characters like Tarzan and Dracula are yours to use. Click To Tweet

In the US, the author retains their rights over a work for the entirety of their life, plus the 70 years that follow their death. Or, if the work is published anonymously or for hire, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation (whichever is shorter). This varies from country to country, but is generally the norm.

That means that a huge amount of the world’s most recognizable and popular characters are available for fan fiction writers to treat however they want. Some companies will do somersaults to keep characters out of the public domain but this is the exception rather than the rule, and a studious Google will tell you whether your chosen character is public domain or not.

But beware!

Copyright is a complex process, and there are many public domain characters who are famous because of facets added by later works. The most famous example is Universal’s hold over Frankenstein’s Monster. Mary Shelley’s original novel is sparse in the way of description for the character, and so Universal invented their own ‘look’ when putting the monster onto the big screen.

This means that you can write about Shelley’s monster, but if it has green skin, a flat-top head, and/or bolts through the neck, then you’re encroaching on Universal’s copyright, and they’ve shown themselves to be very keen on not letting that happen.

Sadly, the only way to tell which aspects of an existing character aren’t public domain is to do your research, although if you work solely from the source material and add your own inventions, you’re unlikely to go wrong.

But if it’s the new addition to an established character which has captured your heart – and I’m looking at you, Sherlock fans – then you’re in the same boat as everyone else, and that means dealing with copyright.

Copyright

In the US and many other countries, authors have copyright over their creations. This is a detailed legal situation, however for fan fiction writers, the chief concern is with derivative works. Copyright gives the author the sole right to create derivative works, basically works which use protected elements of the source material. This is a pretty cut-and-dry situation, stating that you cannot legally use their characters or settings for fan fiction.

There are three ways fan fiction writers may still be free to use copyrighted elements for derivative works. The first is through exceptions given to parody, the second through exceptions granted for ‘fair use’, and the third by general permission of the author.

1. Parody and satire

Here, authors are allowed to use derivative elements of a work in order to parody that work, however what constitutes a genuine parody is a legal decision.

The extent to which a work is a valid parody is based on how ‘transformative’ (rather than derivative) it is in relation to the source material. If a parody is found to transform the copyrighted aspects it uses into something new, then it’s likely to be legally sound. This can be seen in books such as Michael Gerber’s Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody, where aspects of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are parodied in a way which clearly differentiates them from the source material, as a parody of both the stories themselves and the way they have been handled as a franchise:

But then comes news that Hollywood is planning a film of Rollin’s first book about Barry. And they all know that that means: loss of creative control; cheap merchandising; millions more Muddles swarming over Hogwash. Barry agrees a plan with Bumblemore; the film must be stopped.
– Michael Gerber, Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody

This has been firmly distinguished from satire, which is where an author uses derivative elements as part of a more general critique not unique to the original source from which they are drawing. In cases of satire there has been a consistent view that since the satirical author doesn’t ‘need’ to use derivative elements in the same way a parodist does, they are not afforded the same protection.

2. Fair use

Fair use is a provision made for authors so that some aspects of copyrighted work can be utilized for further creativity. It should be stated that, like parody, this is a legal defense.

Fair use considers four conditions:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
    17 U.S. Code § 107 – Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Melding these factors together reveals two big deciding questions on whether fan fiction is legal a) is it transformative rather than derivative (i.e. are you telling a new story or just retelling someone else’s)? and b) what is the effect on the original work’s value?

Fair use, parody, and permission - three paths to legal fan fiction.Click To Tweet

If your story is a new story set in the fictional world, or using the characters, and it doesn’t adversely affect the existing work, then you should be legally protected. This would still depend on how much of the original work you used and would ultimately come down to a legal decision (many writers would consider going to court for this decision too much trouble).

Unfortunately this protection is less present if you’re selling your work. This is seen as creating a form of competition or trading on the original’s reputation, thus adversely affecting the original. This was the case with the story 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, which author John David California declared a sequel to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Though he claimed it was parodic (it attacked the themes of the original by presenting the same character later in life), the court disagreed and he was judged to be infringing on Salinger’s copyright.

The good news is that as long as you don’t intend to sell your work, or offend the writer, most are happy to allow fan fiction to flourish. In fact, some have even taken steps to specifically allow publication for sale.

3. Author permission

Because fan fiction often springs up out of dedicated fan bases, many authors are happy for fan fiction to exist. Authors such as Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, D.J. Machale, and Terry Pratchett have publicly stated they do not have a problem with derivative works, however often with caveats. Rowling, for instance, has stated that she does not like pornographic fan fiction starring her characters, and Pratchett is happy to allow fan fiction writing so long as he is not forced to encounter it:

I don’t actually object to fan fiction, which by its very nature uses copyrighted and trademarked material, provided that it’s put somewhere where I don’t trip over it… isn’t done for money, and isn’t passed off as ‘official’ in any way.

… Everything works if people are sensible.

– Terry Pratchett, L-Space.org

Other authors, for instance Anne Rice, have a zero tolerance approach. Again, only research can tell you your chosen author’s stance on the issue. If you go ahead with fan fiction, it’s sensible to be respectful of author’s wishes when they’re expressed – online collections have a general policy of removing any content objected to by the author of source material.

Using another author’s work? Have fun, but remember to respect their wishes. Click To Tweet

Publishing fan fiction professionally

As described above this is tricky, but there are two easy paths available.

One is Amazon’s ‘Kindle Worlds’. This service allows fan fiction to be professionally published so long as it is from one of the ‘worlds’ which has volunteered to be part of the service. At the moment, this is a very limited pool, found here in its entirety, but does include popular properties such as G.I. Joe, Veronica Mars, The Vampire Diaries, and more. Many creators see fan fiction as an advert for the original work, so this very new service is likely to grow in future.

Looking to publish fan fiction? Ask yourself if it’s ‘transformative’.Click To Tweet

The second path is through retroactively removing copyrighted elements from your work. This was famously successful for E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, whose work began as a fan fiction of the popular Twilight series written by Stephenie Meyer.

James is a fantastic example of fan fiction publishing. Her work took pre-existing characters and produced a new story which was ‘transformative’ to the extent that the source characters could have their copyrighted elements removed or changed afterwards without damaging the story.

Elements such as character personalities, and even general settings, are very difficult to copyright and so can be used freely by fan fiction writers. For example a magical school called ‘Hogwarts’ is a clear infringement on J.K. Rowling’s copyright, whereas a magical school called something else is not. It’s not impossible to infringe on copyright this way, changing names is not a complete pass, however it makes it far less likely that your work could adversely affect the original.

The judgement here would come down to ‘the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole’. That is, quite simply, how much of the original copyrighted material remains in your work. If you’re telling a new story with characters of different names but familiar personalities, then you’re probably safe, though this will always be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Humanity vs. Legality

While there are undeniable legal complications to fan fiction, writers shouldn’t feel unduly worried about engaging in it. Copyright law is designed to protect creators financially while allowing as much further creative expression as possible, and most authors are civil or even friendly to fan fiction writers. If you’re a fan fiction writer working on a non-profit basis, then just try to respect any wishes the author of the source material has expressed, or does express down the line. To this end, whatever form your fan fiction takes, it’s always a good idea to begin with a disclaimer identifying the author of the source material from which you started.

If you find other people’s work inspiring, check out Five Experimental Novels That Will Inspire Any Writer for even more ways to get your creativity fizzing. Or, for more on writing as part of a community, try Why Joining A Writing Group May Be The Best Thing You Do All Year.

Are there any characters you wish were already in the public domain that aren’t, or do you want copyright laws that cut fan fiction authors more slack? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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239 thoughts on “Make Sure Your Fan Fiction Is Legal (Or Regret It Later)”

  1. I usually ignore copyright nonsense, as the notion of owning an idea makes no sense, at all. However, I recently had a tribute video on Youtube, which was brought down quickly. ><

    But it always makes me laugh, when a series – usually anime – or a book has a reference to something copyrighted, like saying: McNolans, Burger Queen, or Henry Otter. Hahaha

    Myself, I never directly take a character from another author, but I never feel worried about using different elements that may be well recognized. The burden of proof is ridiculous, and it's only relevant for top sellers, anyhow.

    1. Hi Assaf,

      You’re quite right, most fan fiction authors won’t encounter any legal problems and would most likely be fine if they did. It’s always best to know your rights / the rules going in though, and I’m sure there are many writers out there who a) don’t want to get as far as someone considering the burden of proof and b) wouldn’t want to offend their favourite creators.

      Also, as you mentioned, most places that host fan fiction have a policy of instantly removing anything that even looks problematic.

      Best,
      Rob

    2. I think my favorite example of that comes from a boxing manga/anime called Hajime no Ippo. One of the characters won a boxing match against a contender named Padawan Yoda. I cracked up upon learning about it.

  2. Hi Rob

    Thank you very much for the information, I just want to seek a bit of clarification to see where the story I am working on would fit.

    Initially I had no intention on trying to sell it, as I accepted that aspects of the story were not my own creation. However, reading your article I think I may be ok to do so.

    I am writing a story set in the Highlander universe. I am not using any of the original characters or story lines. What I am using is the basic idea of immortals, fighting with swords and cutting each others heads off. Pretty much everything else is my own creation.

    As such it sounds to me that I would be covered under fair use, and as such I should be able to publish and sell the work. If this is the case, I assume that I need to state in the copyright section of the book which parts come under me and which parts belong to the original creators?

    Any further advice you can give on this would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    RP

    1. Hi RabbitPirate,

      Given your description I’d say you’re quite close to safe ground, though not due to fair use. In terms of making a work commercially available there are very few occasions where you can freely use parts of someone else’s work, whether you credit them or not.

      That said, you’re free to use the idea of immortals, sword fighting and decapitation without any reference to the original work. The concept of the Highlander isn’t really something that can be protected – what you should avoid using is any terminology, names or locations specific to the work that’s inspired your own story.

      What I’d suggest is a rewrite or edit of your work to remove anything that directly ties it to the same universe as the Highlander stories. If it COULD take place in the same world that’s fine – it’s when it explicitly DOES take place in the same world that problems arise. After that it would be good form to acknowledge the texts that inspired you, but that’s not legally mandated.

      That’s the most guidance I can provide without directly taking a look at the work in question, but hopefully it’s helpful to you.

      Best,
      Rob

  3. I found this as soon as I began searching for potential issues with releasing and/or publishing my fan story. My fan-fiction is a spin-off of the TV Show Heroes, but it’s so loosely based on it that one could argue that I could change a few things here and there, much like James did, and make it an original story. However, my problem lies with the fact that I want to release this book as a fan story. I have indicated in the first page that it is an unofficial story, not endorsed by, or affiliated with the show. The only thing I am adopting from Heroes is the universe itself in which the story takes place in, as well as short cameos from a couple of characters. Should I do anything else before releasing this free e-book? Contacting Tim Kring for example is something of difficulty, as I would love to have permission to publish this fan-story before I return to work on my first original novel. Thanks for this informative post, by the way!

    1. Hi Adam,

      Thanks for the kind words! While I’m reticent to make any absolute statements – at the end of the day I can’t say exactly what the owners of that property will do – your project does have a big difference from James’: you want to release it for free.

      As described above, that means you have a lot more protection, and it’s unlikely you’ll run into difficulties. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to how the property owners feel about fan fiction. The top result of a quick Google shows me a Heroes FanFic archive with 6733 stories – that suggests they’re unlikely to be litigious, although an eBook might be encountered differently. If so, you’re likely to be asked to take it down.

      Legally, you should be fine, but as I’ve mentioned in other comments there’s a difference between being technically in the right and being able or willing to go up against someone with full legal representation.

      Were I betting my own money, I’d say there’ll be no trouble from you publishing a free eBook set in this universe, and that if there is it will just come in the form of a request to remove the work from sale. I can’t guarantee that, but it’s far and away the most probable course.

      I agree that it’ll be near impossible to contact Tim Kring, but you might try messaging some of the official Heroes social media sites. It’s likely you won’t get a response, but if they’re rabidly against fanfiction it might be a way of finding out.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Hi Rob,

        Thank you very much for your reply. Since there appears to be a lot of Heroes stories out there by independent writers and fans, I should hope that it won’t be a problem. If there is a problem with it being a free e-book as well, would I be right in saying the most that could happen is them asking for it to be taken down? I’ll definitely keep trying my best to contact various Heroes related social media sites and see if anything comes out of that.

        Thank you again for your response, it is much appreciated.

        Kind regards,

        ~Adam

        1. Hi Adam,

          Yes, by far the most likely negative consequence would be a take down request. Even that would be unlikely, but as I said I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen, or that it would be the property owners’ chosen response. It would certainly be surprising to see anything more than that. In the event that they did request a take down it would likely be to your distributor – that’s good news, because it means you’ll probably be in compliance without even having to do anything.

          There’s no real difference whether you publish online or via eBook, it’s just that depending how you distribute the latter it might be more likely to come to the property owners’ attention – for instance, it might come up on an Amazon search.

          That said, you’re right in observing that the amount of Heroes fanfiction currently available suggests that no-one is interested in penalising this behaviour. That’s generally the norm, with few creators going out of their way to stop fanfiction. In the case of Heroes I half expected it to be one of the properties involved with Kindle Worlds, but sadly that wasn’t the case.

          Hopefully that’s been useful, and good luck with your story.

          Best,
          Rob

          1. Hi Rob,

            Indeed! I was also hoping Heroes would be available on Kindle Worlds, that would definitely have been an ideal situation. The reason I ask to begin with is because my story is likely to conclude in the length of a novel when it’s completed. (A novella at least) – I’m not aware of other Heroes fan-stories, and I don’t know if those are shorter than a novel/novella or if people have done fan stories of that length before. Either way, I’m satisfied with continuing the way I have been, so thank you for your support, it has been really helpful. Do you have any suggestions as to what sites I could perhaps share my story on when it’s done? Smashwords is one I am aware of, but with this being my first publicised story, I’d very much like to get the most exposure possible before I move onto continuing my original novel.

            Thank you again, and apologies if I’m taking up some of your time!

            Kind regards,

            ~Adam

        2. Hi Adam,

          No problem whatsoever, this is what the comments are for. I’d advise sharing it on any sites you can that are dedicated to Heroes itself. I’d also suggest posting to Wattpad. I’ll include links to a couple of articles below on the benefits, but it’s a great place to publicise this kind of work.

          It might even be worth sharing a portion of your work on dedicated Heroes sites, with a link to the full text on Wattpad. That way you have a base of operations where people who like your work can keep checking on what you’re doing.

          //www.standoutbooks.com/6-things-every-author-needs-to-know-about-wattpad/

          //www.standoutbooks.com/wattpad-fame-professional-success/

          Best,
          Rob

  4. I have a question. Im writing a novel, now the main characters and main supporting characters are my own creation, it involves many Marvel Comic or DC comic characters, many of Johnny Depp’s characters in films, or real people (i.e. Edgar allan poe, George Washington). I am in no way trying to say they are mine. But I would like to sell this book for profit since the central idea has nothing to do with the comic characters. Is this okay to do?

    1. Hi Lexi,

      I’m afraid you’d run into significant legal issues in the situation you’ve described. Marvel Comic and DC characters are strongly protected, as are movie characters played by Depp (though historical figures should be fine).

      The issue isn’t around whether you’re claiming the characters as your own creation, but that you’re using protected characters without permission. It raises the dual issue of those characters being linked to works their creators haven’t approved, and the potential that money will be made from a character they own without them getting a fair cut.

      Were you to offer the book for free there’d be less of an issue, but I’m afraid if you wanted to make a profit you’d be in real legal danger.

      That said, it shouldn’t take a lot of work to use most of the characters without infringing on trademarked or copyrighted areas. Marvel and DC are constantly stealing each other’s characters: series like ‘Multiversity’, ‘Supreme Power’ and ‘The Boys’ do it blatantly. A character can clearly be based on such properties so long as a few minor tweaks are made to distance it from the original property, or establish it as parody. Generally you’d have to avoid using recognisable names, phrases and appearances, but the ‘concept’ behind a character is fair game. If you need an example I’d suggest looking at ‘The Seven’, a tongue-in-cheek but clearly recognisable re-imagining of The Justice League of America, for how obvious you can be while still having legal protection.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Boys_characters#The_Seven

      Hopefully that’s been helpful, but please let me know if you’d like more info.

      Best,
      Rob

  5. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the info, this is super helpful! Had a question about creating a fanfic from Gravity Falls, a show that just ended recently (such a wonderful show!). There’s a part of the show where a character (Ford Pines) returns from a portal, and what happened to him in the portal is never explained – so I wanted to make a short comic about his adventures while he was inside, but not sure how legally ok it is to do this. I was going to use just this and one other character from the show, and create a completely new world/storyline for him. Any advice? Also advice on drawing with these characters? My drawing style is very similar to the animation used, and I’d want to do a good job making it look similar as a homage to the show – but not sure how ok it is to draw a show’s characters in a full comic. I’d just want to publish it on a fanfic site somewhere too, not to sell it.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi YayGF,

      Thanks very much, I’m glad the article was helpful. I’ll give my answer in two parts, since there’s some general stuff that might be helpful to anyone with a similar query, and then a bit extra that applies to your situation in particular.

      In general, so long as you’re not charging for a work, and you don’t try to make it seem like it’s connected to the original property, you’re in the clear to write/draw whatever you like. You’re perfectly free to get as close to the drawing style as you can, and to use existing characters etc. etc. The law surrounding this is designed to allow fans to engage as fully as possible with a property while not depriving the creator of earnings, which you wouldn’t be doing. Basically, stay away from money and you’re fine.

      Specifically regarding Gravity Falls, the show has a huge online following that’s been integral to its success, and with which the creators frequently engage. Looking through Alex Hirsch’s Twitter feed, he frequently shares fan art and creations, so I’d say in this particular case not only are you legally fine, but the creator seems to actively encourage people to create their own stuff based on the source material.

      So, in short, you should feel free to use these characters, draw as close as you can/want to in regards to the show’s style, and publish (for no fee) on a fan site. When you do, please link to the finished work here – I’d love to see how it turns out.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Awesome, thanks so much for your reply! Will definitely post the link – last question, any suggestions on which fanfic site is the best to post a comic on?

        Thanks again for all your help!

        1. No problem at all. I don’t have any specific advice about this particular project, but following the readership is usually the best bet. If you google ‘Gravity Falls fan fiction’ then the most popular places for GF content should come up, after that I’d suggest investigating a few sites to see which is right for you.

          I’d also suggest checking out Wattpad, which isn’t fan fiction focused but is generally friendly to that kind of writing. You can find out more in the article below. Finally, I believe a Gravity Falls comic would be well-received on Tumblr.

          //www.standoutbooks.com/6-things-every-author-needs-to-know-about-wattpad/

          Best,
          Rob

  6. Hello all,

    That’s a good article full of info, it helped me to understand more how copyrights should work when you are using a bit of other writings under copyright.

    Correct me if I am wrong, I will give some examples:
    Example book/TV serie Sex and the city.

    1)If I decide to write a book about 4 girls in New York who are around 35 yo and who are trying to find love and enjoying life and men, that’s ok.
    2)If I decide to write a book about 4 girls in New York who are around 35 yo and who are trying to find love and enjoying life and men. And 1 is shy, 1 is strict, 1 is exuberant, 1 is an inheritor of a rich family, that’s still ok.
    3)If I decide to write a book about 4 girls in New York who are around 35 yo and who are trying to find love and enjoying life and men. And 1 is shy and called Charlotte, 1 is realistic and called Miranda, 1 is exuberant and called Samantha, 1 is a journalist who loves a Mr. Big and called Carrie, that’s not ok.

    For me it’s still blur. I am a writer, I am earning money from my books, but as I read a ton of books and sometime when I am writing I feel “It reminds me something what I am writing”, I don’t want infringe copyright laws.

    Thanks !

    1. Hi Tara,

      I’m glad you found the article useful. Your question is difficult to answer with no provisos, but I’ll do my best. Basically: yes, you’re right on the money. Unfortunately the line for every property is different, and even then things aren’t straightforward.

      It’s important to remember that whether you’ve infringed on someone’s copyright or not is a legal decision. Like any other legal decision, it requires the offence to be seen, reported and presided over by some form of legal expert. They will consider whether the alleged offence has taken place, using the resultant work as evidence. In your example, I believe that the expert would decide that cases 1 and 2 don’t prove infringement but case 3 does, but it would depend on that expert. Also, as with anything of this nature, you could be completely in the right and still be accused. Most authors would like to avoid that, even if they’d ‘win’ in court, so the line of what you’re legally allowed to do tends to exist a long way away from the line of what’s sensible or safe to do.

      Furthermore, it tends to be quantifiable assets that decide these cases – you could write something very VERY similar to Sex and the City and be in no danger, but use those four character names in a different narrative and get in trouble. ‘Ideas’ are hard to pin down or define, and so that legal expert is only going to accept them as evidence if they’re more or less incontrovertible. Another commenter mentioned trademarked terms, and these and copyright exist around each other – it’s in areas like names, identifiable phrases and unique design decisions that authors flirt with danger. A young wizard who fights the dark mage that killed his parents is fine to write about, but a character with a lightning bolt scar would probably invite trouble.

      Try not to worry too much about plot events – it’s been a long, long time since someone wrote a story that wasn’t based on multiple things they’d read or seen.

      Best,
      Rob

  7. I recently saw a book in my local bookstore titled “Welcome to Camp Pikachu”; it is also available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers. The front cover bills it as an “Unofficial Stor[y] for Pokémon Collectors”, and the back cover has a pretty clear disclaimer: “This book is not authorized or sponsored by The Pokémon Company International, Nintendo of America, Inc., Nintendo/Creatures Inc., or any other person or entity owning or controlling rights in the Pokémon characters, name, trademarks, or copyrights.” I wasn’t expecting the selling of this unofficial book to be legal in the slightest, so my curiosity has led me to try to figure out what’s happening here. I stumbled upon this informative blog post in my research, but some questions remain unanswered for me.

    I quote: “This service [Amazon’s Kindle Worlds] allows fan fiction to be professionally published so long as it is from one of the ‘worlds’ which has volunteered to be part of the service. At the moment this is a very limited pool, found here in its entirety, but does include popular properties such as G.I. Joe, Veronica Mars, The Vampire Diaries, and more. Many creators see fan fiction as an advert for the original work, so this very new service is likely to grow in future.” Note, however, that Pokémon is not among those listed franchises, and considering Nintendo’s reputation for angering gamers with how it controls its copyrights (for example, by declaring tool-assisted speedruns to be copyright-infringing), I doubt it will be soon. (Then again, if Hasbro’s allowing G.I. Joe fanfiction, I suppose anything’s possible!)

    It should also be noted that there are no Pokémon on the cover; in fact, the cover illustration includes an ordinary cat (not a Meowth, not a Skitty, but a regular cat like you’d see in real life). That might help the legality somewhat.

    I am not an author of fan fiction, or at least I haven’t authored any since the very early 2000’s when I was deeply involved in Mario fanfiction, so I am curious more for the sake of curiosity and less for the sake of wanting to publish my work without legal trouble.

    1. Hi Grant,

      I’m not a legal expert and am not specifically familiar with this book, but it sounds like a combination of factors. The first is that, like any crime, being pursued for copyright or trademark infringement requires an accuser. I won’t go into the difference between criminal and civil law, but in this area it’s down to the injured party to pursue recompense. It’s entirely possible that this work has been allowed into the market simply because no-one has stopped it. The parties interested in protecting Pokemon as a property may a) not be aware of this book, b) have decided it’s not worth pursuing or c) have decided that seeking recompense would be too complicated or open them up to more risk than reward (if a judge finds in favor of this writer, for instance, might that illuminate aspects of the brand as more vulnerable than they currently appear?)

      The second factor is that copyrights and trademarks are complex – words and phrases don’t get a blanket protection, but are understood in context. I found this sentence from the blurb quite illuminating ‘And his big sister is as mean as Meowth, the cat that prowls the camp.’ To those who don’t know, Meowth is a cat-like Pokemon, but here it’s made clear that a literal cat is being discussed. I imagine this skirts copyright/trademark restrictions because it’s a clear reference – it’s like the main character of the movie Kingsman naming his dog ‘Jack Bauer’. It’s a reference to an existing fictional property which doesn’t lay claim to that property – something that’s legally permissible.

      It’s possible that the entire book works in this way – using many Pokemon references but treating them as just that – and it’s simply not worth the copyright owner’s time and resources to pick through and find the legal issues with a product which isn’t actually bothering them. From the brief look I’ve had, I think the story probably skirts the edges by not using any terms in a context that’s protected. That said, if I were the author I’d feel a pang of anxiety every time I checked the mail.

      Best,
      Rob

  8. I am writing a book featuring the setting of Piggy Island from Rovio and the characters which are the Angry Birds Transformers from the game Angry Birds Transformers and the Eggbots. I use a unique way of telling the story. I also add other Transformers that are mixed with birds/pigs. Is this okay because all the characters I’m borrowing are from Rovio.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for getting in contact. Using properties owned by one company doesn’t really change anything I mentioned in the article, except that there are fewer parties involved in any possible disputes. That said, I’m not particularly up-to-date on the properties you mentioned, but a bit of Googling suggests that Hasbro and TakaraTomy hold the copyright for ‘Transformers’, and probably have some form of legal interest in the characters that resulted from the crossover of that property with Rovio’s ‘Angry Birds’.

      It all depends on what you do with your story. You can write absolutely anything you like – the difficulties arise in how you distribute the end product. Each case is unique, but problems tend to arise when money becomes involved. You would almost certainly be unable (legally) to sell the story, but shouldn’t run into much trouble distributing it for free.

      As a final note, Hasbro and TakaraTomy tend to be very lenient in their behaviour towards fan creations, and Rovio seem to have only tackled major offenders (people selling unlicensed soft toys, for example).

      Best,
      Rob

  9. Interesting article. I have to admit I find fan fiction a bit baffling.

    If you’ve got the talent and chops to write something original with characters/universe, etc that already exists then why not just go that little bit further and create something original?

    A part of me suspects its because the fan fiction writer wants the automatic audience/attention that would come with somebody’s else’s work. And whether legal or not, riding somebody else’s coattails is just creatively moribund.

    1. Hi EA,

      Thanks for commenting. I have to apologize – I replied the other day, but the comment doesn’t seem to have appeared on the site.

      I think fan fiction has a lot of potential benefits for authors and readers – it allows an incredibly direct engagement with a story, its characters, and its themes in a way which often isn’t available from other avenues. It’s because of this that fan fiction often takes places in communities, with multiple writers also acting as readers and critics for each other’s work.

      I think the key to appreciating fan fiction is in understanding that when it’s particularly successful, we call it something else. The most famous example of fan fiction is probably Milton’s Paradise Lost – a key text in world literature, and yet one that (however impressively it does it) re-imagines events not originating with the author.

      Similarly, in many artistic mediums, fan fiction is the norm. Films and graphic novels both tend to have multiple artists follow on from one original piece of media. The sequels and new installments that follow are treated as part of the canon, but they’re still authors creating in someone else’s world.

      This is even true of literature – Anthony Horowitz’ ‘The House of Silk’ and ‘Trigger Mortis’, and Eoin Colfer’s ‘And Another Thing…’ are all official fan fiction novels of popular franchises (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

      Of course, I agree that it’d be a poorer world if all fiction was fan fiction, but at the same time I think it’s a lively genre that produces a great deal of excellent work.

      Best,
      Rob

    2. To EA, who wonders why someone would bother writing fan fiction, I’d like to give an insight into the why of writing fan fiction – or at least my reason (I’m sure others may have different reasons).
      I am currently writing a ‘fan fiction’ novel, not because I couldn’t be bothered coming up with my own characters & world, or because I wanted an automatic audience. Indeed I had no intention for the longest time of actually sharing my work with anyone else. I didn’t even intend to write a novel. I had been immersed in a particular series and thinking about the characters and a story idea popped into my head and eventually I had to write it down – just for myself. 180,000 words later I have the urge to share my work with others. Now I’m torn about whether to make the necessary changes to make it different enough from the series that inspired me to attempt publication, or to keep my baby as intended.
      Anyway I hope this helps you understand another viewpoint.

      1. Hi Ky,

        Thanks for commenting – great to get a personal account and look at things from another angle.

        Best,
        Rob

  10. Hi Rob,
    excellent article, thanks so much. And for the replies, which illuminate individual points. Also very helpful. I have a query myself if you can spare the time.
    I’ve self-published a book. There are zero specific similarities with any published work as far as I’m aware, but while reading another book I had the idea for a fan-fiction story which combines elements of both my book and that book (a so-called crossover). Basically, I thought “wow, it would be cool if something like X in my book happened with something like Y in that book.”
    Now I could just publish the story with new names etc., but I’m pretty sure if I do then someone else will say “hey this is like Y”, and maybe that’s inviting more trouble than just going down the explicit crossover route. So I’m thinking I’ll publish the story for free online, with all disclaimers made.
    My problem: could a crossover like that be seen as using work Y to promote my own work X? The story would be free, but could I be in trouble for ‘riding someone else’s coat-tails’ to moribund creative glory (as EA above put it) and personal gain if the story promotes sales of my book? I should also say that work Y is well-known, and my own book isn’t (yet!).
    Any ideas would be welcome. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Mr. M,

      My pleasure, glad you enjoyed it, and REALLY glad you’ve found the comments helpful.

      I can’t speak to the opinions people would have about either option (as the comments show, people have very different approaches to fan fiction), but in terms of legality, I believe it makes most sense to act as if the rest of your series doesn’t exist and just focus on the free ‘crossover’ story you’d be publishing. In that regard, it would be treated no differently to any other free publication – the fact that it uses a property you ARE selling elsewhere shouldn’t come into it.

      That said, as I’ve discussed above, a lot of the ‘trouble’ hinges on whether or not the owners of the other property decide to take an interest, which might be more likely if commercial works are involved.

      I think my best advice would be to go for a thinly veiled version of work Y, using some early indicators to make it clear that you’re referencing another franchise in a way that is deliberately apparent to readers. This covers you legally – and makes it unlikely that anyone would choose to make life hard – but will also start you off on the right foot with readers, who will feel included in the reference rather than as if you’ve tried to trick them or are riding any coat-tails.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Thanks very much, Rob. Helpful as ever. I suspect I’ll leave it, which is a shame as the story could have been good, but the legal fallout is not worth considering.
        Thanks again,
        Mr M.

  11. Hi Rob
    I learned a lot from this article. I have a question if I may be so bold as to ask. I am writing a Fanfic and it involves a form of DC characters, I say form I don’t actually use direct names or descriptions for the DC characters themselves but imply who they are by using Nicknames that some of the characters use towards each other or last names with the absence of first names. In most of my chapters you have to think real hard to know who is involved. The only characters I describe and highlight are my own creations. I don’t intend to sell or anything I just feel like people would enjoy this story. I have never written a fanfic before, I feel like I should be fine but a second opinion never hurt to have.

    1. Hi Silph,

      Thanks for getting in touch. As you’re not planning to sell the resultant story, you should be fine (money complicates everything). Otherwise, it’s basically the same situation as in Lexi’s comment, above. The only extra thing I’d add is to be careful with in-world nicknames, as some of them are protected terms – ‘The Dark Knight’, for example, is just as protected as ‘Batman’, whereas something like ‘boy scout’ is more generic and can be used freely.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. I see. Thanks Rob. Nicknames I use are more like “The Bat”, “Red” or “Young Master”. But yes I do not plan to sell in anyway. Just thought it be a nice story for people to read. Thanks again for taking the time to respond

        1. Hi Silph,

          No problem, my pleasure. As I say, you should be fine with a free work, and those nicknames seem like they’d be acceptable either way. If you want to check out the boundaries a bit, I’d suggest something like Garth Ennis’ ‘The Boys’, which takes a pretty aggressive stance on superheroes, and skates about as close to their likenesses as is possible.

          Best,
          Rob

  12. Hi Robert,
    Thank you for this wonderful article!
    I’m currently writing a CSI fanfic with one original character in it. Will I run into copyright issues if I post my story online (of course, with a disclaimer and all)?
    My story starts out as a rewrite of a CSI episode. Would that be a problem?
    I really mean no harm or anything, I just want to share my story.

    Again, thank you for this wonderful article!

    Thank you so much and have a great day.

    Best,
    Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah,

      You’re very welcome – thanks for commenting. I can’t give a cast-iron guarantee – odd things happen – but you shouldn’t run into any trouble just sharing the story online. Thousands of people do the same thing without incident. Likewise, while it’s very unlikely you’d have any problems, if you DID run into any trouble, it would almost certainly just be a stern request to remove the content.

      If I were you, I’d feel free to share the story without any worries.

      Best,
      Rob

  13. Hi,
    i am planning on writing my own fanfic if i was to use gifs and pictures from the internet ( tumblr) would i run into and legal issues?

    1. Hi Chloe,

      It would depend how you published – if your intent is to publish via a blog or forum, you’ll almost certainly be fine. Major sites would ask you to replace the images with some you either own or which can be used just by crediting the author. If you’re talking about publishing for money, you couldn’t use someone else’s images unless you had permission.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. thank you for coming back to me . I was going to publish the book on wattpad with no intention of publishing for money, only for other peoples enjoyment.

  14. Interesting article. I’ve got a question. I’m about to get into self-publishing, and I’m making my own author website. I’d like to share some of my fanfics on my website as free downloads, but some of these might not fall under the category of “original author has 100% given their okay on such fics”. I wouldn’t be charging for the stories themselves, of course, but I’m worried that putting them up on the same website where I’m advertising/linking to/selling my for-sale original stories might allow someone to argue that I’m making money from the fanfics indirectly. What do you think?

    1. Hi SB,

      To my knowledge, you wouldn’t be incurring any extra risk by featuring fan fiction next to for-sale stories. While you would technically be drumming up business, the literal and legal definitions of how that works are pools apart. So long as the fan fiction is available for no charge, and not directly linked to sales of your original work (for example, buy one original and get two fan fiction stories free), you should be okay.

      That said, it might be a situation where someone who owns a property is less comfortable due to the proximity to paid work, so there might be the added (though likely minimal) risk of inviting problematic attention. This could be lessened by making the fan fiction easy to read on your site, rather than requiring fans to download.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Thanks! I was thinking of putting up a PDF link, which can be opened and read without needing to be downloaded. Though maybe I could work out a way to make them pages on the site as well.

        1. No problem. Posting them as text – like this blog – would mean that any concerned party can check them out right away without worrying that they’ve missed problematic content.

  15. Thanks for the article, very interesting. I write fanfiction and understand both sides of the “if you’re good enough, make your own” and “why can’t I publish my FF for money?” I’m working on my own, original work, BUT find the ff keeps my writing sharp and when I publish it online (for free), I get immediate reactions to the stories. I like hearing what people think… and trust me, not all of it’s good! I’ve been asked by numerous people if I will publish one of my FF stories. I would LOVE to, but as a writer, I have NO interest in stepping on other writer’s toes, especially when they’re copy written.

  16. Hi Rob!

    Very useful article, thank you so much! I’ve worked out that if I change names for people and places I’d essentially have an original work (as the story was set in an alternate universe, in a period before the series began, and has no relation to what actually happens in the series).

    I was wondering though – If I were successful in getting this fiction published as an original work, would I have to take down the fanfiction version off the internet? If it makes any difference, it’s Harry Potter.

    Thank you for your help!!

    Nico

    1. Hi Nico,

      Thanks for a really interesting question. To begin with, I think it’s important to clarify that there are really two ways to discuss this: what the law requires and what will keep you out of trouble. As previous commenters have expressed, there are things which are technically prohibited but which, in the real world, are likely to be overlooked, just as there are things you’re within your rights to do but which may bring undue attention. Most authors I’ve met would prefer not to end up in court, even if they’re likely to emerge the victor.

      To that end, I’d say that it would certainly be sensible to remove the fanfic version if the rewritten version is published. Attaching someone else’s property to a financial endeavor – even tangentially – could result in legal attention and action, whether or not you’re actually in the right.

      In legal terms, I believe you’d be safe (though I’m not an expert, and this shouldn’t be taken as legal advice).

      Overall, I would suggest removing the fanfic version. It would be the safest option to avoid legal complications and – from a sales viewpoint – it just makes sense not to offer a free version of a work you’d otherwise like to profit from.

      Best,
      Rob

  17. Hi– a question or two about a fan fic novel I’m just finishing. The characters are part of an author’s universe that will be entering public domain within the next 8-10 years or so, and I’ve had no trouble and even some encouragement from the estate concerning my fan efforts (which have been shared online and are good promotion for them). I would like to format my story into a paperback through Lulu. I would not be selling it, but I wanted to make at least one copy for me, and preferably a few for my friends and family as well (to give away). Is that as far as I am likely to be able to go? If I made it available on Lulu publicly at zero profit to myself, but only for the cost of printing and shipping to the buyer, would that violate copyright/sales issues?

    1. Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for your question. I think you’d be fine to have copies printed for you and friends, but may run into trouble making it widely available. When money enters the picture, it’s not just about a fan fiction author making money off a protected property, but how the new work’s commercial existence reflects on it.

      That said, you could always reach out for permission to make it available for free on Lulu. If you’re already on good terms – and you don’t plan to profit – then they may grant permission, in which case you’re free and clear. For most authors, it’s not an option, as they’re unlikely to ever hear back, but it’s actually a bit of a magic bullet solution to most copyright issues. Hope that’s useful.

      Best,
      Rob

  18. Great article! I’m a huge fan of the show Shameless, and have been wanting to write fan fiction prior to when the show started. It would be the same characters, but everything else would be made up. Could I publish short novellas of this? 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thanks very much! The rules for Shameless would be the same as elsewhere – if you’re offering it for free you’re probably fine, but if not, you’re likely to run into legal difficulties. That said, change the names and it sounds like you’ve got a wholly original work.

      Best,
      Rob

  19. Hello Rob,
    Firstly, thank you for this lovely article it explained a lot for me. I am interested in fan fiction a bit, and I have a few inquiries on the topic. You see, a friend of mine has recently published her first fan fiction on Wattpad roughly two years ago, and as her birthday is coming up, I was planning to publish a single copy of it for her. However, though, her fan fiction includes unoriginal characters that came from the original work. Though I do make no plans in selling this and neither does my companion and only create it for personal use. I do plan to use a site for printing individual books, and their copyright terms have been unclear to me. Do you perhaps believe that I will encounter an infringement with this issue? My apologies for taking up your time.
    Thanks,
    Britney

    1. Hi Britney,

      Thanks very much, and not at all – I’m here to help. I don’t think you’ll encounter any kind of infringement with this issue. In terms of reassurance, think of it as just printing out a copy for a friend (albeit in a fancier way than normal). If you started selling those printed books, there’d be an issue, but as a one-off gift, you should be fine.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Hello Rob,

        None at all! I found your article very informative. Thank you for all your help! This really has made everything go by a lot easier, I’ll be sure to order one soon then. I really can’t thank you enough for your assistance.

        Much thanks,
        Britney

  20. Then what’s the point of fanfiction if you can’t make money off of the original and what about fanfiction.net or wattpad.com and yes there is a website that publishes fanfiction called kindle on amazon and on lulu.com as well. And Yes, You might need authors permission but what if you well, put the original author on the cover of your book as the “whats the word” the top-billing author, and the one who created the fanfiction would be the other author.

    1. Hi Casey,

      Thanks for commenting. There are lots of purposes to fan fiction that aren’t about immediate financial gain. It can help authors hone their craft, build a following, contribute to a community, experiment within the constraints of a fixed universe, explore someone else’s art through their own, or provide the first form of an original work (as with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’).

      Of course, there are also routes to financial gain. Sooner or later everything enters public domain (or is supposed to, at least), and as you say, there are various schemes such as Kindle Worlds that allow fanfic authors to use modern properties.

      Including an original author’s name isn’t enough to be safe. It’s not just about credit, but about the potential to harm someone’s reputation or otherwise interfere with the commercial viability of their work. For instance, imagine someone credits you as the co-author of a book which is awful, or which says things that are against your personal philosophy or morals. Readers who see your name on that work may then associate your name with poor quality, or with ideas that turn them off buying the next book you actually write. It might even confuse readers as to what’s official and what isn’t, leading them to choose a writer whose body of work is more clearly defined and easier to get into.

      That’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of hypothetical damage, and remember that it’s not about whether or not that kind of thing happens, but just the potential that it could. Danger begins when you get anywhere near the revenue stream.

      Fan fiction is almost always a passion project, and it kind of has to be – it’s certainly unlikely to be a money-spinner.

      Best,
      Rob

  21. This is a very interesting blog post.

    The reason I was reading this blog post is because I used to really enjoy writing fanfiction, until one day I was like “wait, what if it’s illegal?”

    I already wrote so much! Knowing that so much of my writing might be illegal freaks me out, even though I know I most likely won’t get in any sort of trouble. Some of my fanfiction is on fanfiction.net, and unfortunately I am not able to access my account, so I don’t think I will be able to delete it. What should I do about this? Anyone have any advice?

    1. Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for the kind words. You really don’t need to worry – since your writing is free and clearly marked as fan fiction (due to its location), there’s very little risk of anyone having any kind of issue with it. Even if they did, the first step they’d take is to request that fanfiction.net remove it, and it’s superlatively unlikely that the site would do anything but comply, ending the matter.

      The laws around this area are intended to allow free expression; you’re free to write whatever you like. It’s when cashflow enters the picture – directly or theoretically – that things get messy.

      If you’re still concerned, I’d recommend emailing fanfiction.net and asking that your work is removed. Fan fiction sites want as little trouble as possible in this area, and so they’ll probably be able to help you out.

      Best,
      Rob

  22. I am on the horns of this same derivative dilemma as well. For nanowrimo I recently completed a novella based on the play and movie “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. It has been transposed into my own fantasy setting, characters renamed and some minor adjustments made for the plot to fit my universe that is not very close to 1950′ Mississippi.

    I have been under the impression that since it would be a derivative work, I could not even publish it for free as a writing sample.

    Am I wrong in thinking I have to wait for public domain to happen in 2038, even if it is free? We are talking MGM Lawyers and the estate of Tennessee Williams here.

    1. Hi M.D.,

      Thanks for commenting. This is a difficult question to answer because of the fluidity of the word ‘publish’. The intention with the laws around this area is to prevent someone from ‘hijacking’ another’s work, while encouraging the maximum amount of free expression. To that end, providing work for free tends to be protected – you’re free to write it, you’re free to show it to a friend, and if the modern age allows you to show it to a hundred friends or more, the spirit of that act is generally viewed to be the same. In short, you could generally expect to be in the clear so long as you’re making work freely available with no claim to any protected aspects.

      That said, there’s a gulf between what’s technically permitted and what can bring unwanted legal attention into your life. As you suggest, the owner of a property might want to pursue legal action against a free work, even if that free work is allowable and would eventually be declared such in a court of law. It’s worth remembering, though, that actions by property owners are almost certain to begin with a request to rescind your work. For some authors, this is enough assurance to test the waters.

      I’d also note that this particular work was a play before it was a film – excising any elements unique to the film version might make things easier. This has been done with characters like Frankenstein and Snow White to dodge the attentions of more litigious entities. This would theoretically allow you to banish MGM from your considerations.

      All of that said, it sounds like your work meets the standard of being ‘transformative’ – a different setting with characters of different names sounds like it might no longer include protected assets. You can’t protect a series of events or ‘story’, so it’s entirely possible your work could even be provided for sale without objection. The article below might provide some more info on this.

      //www.standoutbooks.com/adapting-famous-stories/

      Best wishes,
      Rob

  23. Rob, I just wanted to say thank you for this exceptional article and the amazingly thorough answers to all of the comments thus far. If this had been written 10 years ago when I had first started writing fanfiction, I would not have wasted so much time being afraid or ashamed, and could have spent more time honing my craft.

    But we can’t change the past, only the future – which you certainly have done here. Thank you so much for sharing your time to write this and encourage and help so many writers!

    1. Hi JB,

      Thanks for the kind words, and my pleasure! I’m glad the article has been so useful to you, and I hope it continues to be so in the future.

      Best,
      Rob

  24. Hi Rob,
    first of all thank you for your article! I hope I’m not too late to the party 🙂
    I’m considering writing something one could describe as a “novelization” of a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) I love (so not really a fan fiction, though there are similarities). It seems almost immediately a no-go since I’d use characters, names, world and even story, adding my own – of course – but the world itself, the characters and a big portion of the dialogues would come directly from the game itself.
    I could simply decide to keep it for myself, but the work will be enormous (and I’m planning to release it in Italian, while the game’s only available in English) considering also the translation involved and I was thinking… would there be any way to, maybe, publish it (on Amazon for Kindle) and selling it? Is there some way to make this work? I don’t think changing the names would be enough, since the story would practically be the same with a new spin here and there…

    Thank you very much and Happy new 2017 🙂

    1. Hi Fabrizio,

      Happy New Year, and thanks for your comment! Unfortunately, I can’t see a way for you to publish your work for sale legally without either making changes or seeking permission from the owners of that particular property. A series of events can’t be protected, but you wouldn’t be able to use the dialogues, and the type of novelization you talk about is the type of thing the laws in this area are designed to curtail.

      With it being an RPG, there might be some traction in approaching the relevant companies with the idea that you want to novelize your experience of it, to further dramatize your playthrough. You could also consider offering it for free.

      Best,
      Rob

      1. Hi Rob,
        thank you for your answer!
        I would probably need to keep my work to myself or sharing it with a few friends, then. I even considered the idea of checking with the game publisher, but I suspect they wouldn’t agree to let a stranger novelize their game even if they have no intention of doing so themselves. It’d be understandable, to be honest!

        You mention I could offer it for free, would that be OK and considered “fair use” even if I ended up publishing it (for free) on Amazon? Of course I would put a note at the beginning of the book stating it is an unofficial novelization and citing the copyright holders (game developers and publisher).

        Thank you for your help 🙂
        Fabrizio

        1. Hi Fabrizio,

          My pleasure. Publishing for free via Amazon would certainly put you on less risky ground, but I’m afraid it’s still a gray area. Basically, you’d be gambling that no-one would ask you to remove it. That’s a lot more likely when it’s free, but there’s no guarantee. The safest way to share free work would be to share it via a web page or forum. Because Amazon is primarily about publishing for money, it can invite greater scrutiny even for free works.

          Contacting the rights holder might be more successful than you think. You’re not asking for exclusive rights, after all, just permission to engage with their work. I’d suggest getting in contact even if you publish for free – notifying them that you intend to share your work shows good faith, and could invite the same in return.

          Best,
          Rob

  25. Hi Rob,

    I’m wondering if writing fan fiction just for myself is legal? I don’t ever plan on posting it anywhere online or publishing it. The only other person who would see it is my sister, and she writes it with me. There’s no possible way that anyone could ever sue me or get mad at me if I just write it for myself, correct? I get paranoid really easily, which is why I’m asking. We write on Google Docs, and it’s only shared between us. It’s only illegal if I publish, is basically what I’m asking.

    Also, can the way a person looks be copyrighted? My character has rather a fascinating look, but it is the way the actor looks in real life, and obviously they look this way in their films as well. It’s not like Frankenstein or anything like that, just a normal person who happens to have some rather rare qualities, such as being very tall and very thin, and then they also have short blonde hair. No other distinguishing marks or qualities.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Murphy,

      There is absolutely no danger in writing fan fiction and sharing it with your self, co-writer, family, or friends. As I’ve said in other comments, it’s also almost always okay to share it for free with a wider audience, so long as it’s made clear that the work is derivative.

      The way a character looks can be protected, but only in very specific ways that you don’t need to worry about (you couldn’t dress someone up in the batsuit, for instance, but you could get very close). In terms of character description, you can say someone looks however you want, especially when you’re not publishing your work.

      All of the advice above really covers work that has entered, or is getting close to, the commercial sphere. The law is designed to make it as easy as possible to create and share your work, so long as you’re not getting in the way of anybody’s ability to make money off their own. So, no, I’d say there’s basically zero chance of anyone suing or getting mad at you, and you’re entirely safe to keep working, and even to show your work to a wider group of people if and when you want to.

      If you need any further advice please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

      Best,
      Rob

  26. This article is really helpful. I was wondering if you could perhaps offer me some advice though. I’ve been writing a novel-length ‘real world’ fanfiction. The terminology, setting and plotline are all of my own original creation, however the protagonist characters used are based off real live people (Japanese idols). The story itself has no connection to their real lives, containing dystopian/fantasy elements. If I was to consider publishing, I would be certain to change names, and also personalities where needed. However within my fanfiction, I have used/referenced several minor events based on happenings that have occurred to these people in real life. Any advice on what I can to do avoid legal issues if I wished to try and publish this fiction? Those I have spoken to about or shared snippets of my fanfiction with often ask whether I plan on publishing, under the claim that it is well-written and an original idea like they have never heard of before. Part of me is certainly keen to at least try publication but I am worried about the legal issues that could arise. I appreciate any information or suggestions you may be able to offer me regarding this dilemma.

    1. Hi Jasmine,

      Thanks for getting in touch. It kind of depends on how unique these events are. It sounds as if you should be fine – the best measure is whether an independent but uninformed person could read your book and draw conclusions about real people from it. Since it’s a fictional setting and the characters have different names, this is unlikely to be the case.

      That said, if the real events you include identify a character as representing a real person, that’s where the trouble starts. If, for example, a character is said to be the only holder of a real award, and their real-life counterpart is in the same position, that could be taken as you suggesting to the reader that they should understand the fictional character as that real person. An uninformed person could/would make that connection.

      Basically, it’s okay to include small or general events, but anything that immediately links the fictional character to the real person would be inadvisable. Again, though, it doesn’t take much tweaking to avoid this. In the example above, you could simply change the name of the award.

      I hope that’s useful, but please check out the article below for more on this topic.

      //www.standoutbooks.com/use-real-people-celebrities/

      Best,
      Rob

  27. I found this article to be very helpful and the information provided cleared out most of my questions, so thank you! But there’s something that has been bothering me for a while now and I wonder if you could give me some advice?

    I have read plenty of fanfiction over the years and couldn’t help but notice the growing trend of some fanfiction authors creating one, or more, of their own original characters (OC’s) and simply adding them to the cannon plot-line of their desired fandom. Of course, they make changes in their writing to accommodate their characters in the world and most of them provide disclaimers in their work, but I still have the question: does this type of fanfiction commit copyright infringement, seeing as it blatantly includes copyrighted plot, characters, and even dialogue?

    1. Hi Ella,

      It’s hard to pin a specific legal term on a hypothetical situation, especially given all the details and provisos involved in the law. That said, adding an OC is not enough to make a work ‘transformative’ rather than ‘derivative’, and so the fan fiction author would be unlikely to have the legal right to profit from that work.

      In more straightforward terminology, adding a new character is unlikely to change anything about the legal status of a piece of fan fiction.

      Best,
      Rob

  28. I’m the writer of a fan fiction that’s okay in popularity. A lot of people seem to like it, but the subject of my fan fiction is very complicated.
    Its based of a Chinese web novel. In this web novel the main character and his team go on adventures through movie worlds like Resident Evil, The Mummy, and Transformers and fight with or against characters from the movie worlds in a death game environment where they also enhance themselves with fictional powers. This is a legal work because China has strange or none existent rules for copy rights.
    My fan fiction of this web novel has for the most part different characters and rather than movies it’s Manga, Anime, Light Novels and game worlds. I also live in the U.S if that matters, so where does my fan fiction stand and can I sell it? Any advice is appropriated.

    1. Hi WB,

      From your description, it sounds as if you’d struggle to legally sell your fan fiction, as it would encroach on the intellectual property of the manga, anime, light novels and games included, if not the web novel itself.

      You could avoid this by adjusting the worlds you’re travelling through so that they don’t use existing intellectual property, but are clear references for those familiar with the works in question.

      Best,
      Rob

  29. Hi, Robert! I just have a quick question! So I wrote some novelizations of my favorite video games (Legend of Zelda) where I do take some creative licences by adding my own elements of the story itself and making it my own. What my question is though, I don’t want to sell this, but I want to be able to get it bound like a regular paperback or hardback book (lulu . com is a great way to get this done) just so I can have something for my time or to let my family read what I have done. I don’t want to do anything just yet with it until I’m sure I won’t be legally prosecuted by making a book of something I’m incredibly proud of. What would you say about this?

    1. Hi Shylo,

      You should be completely fine with having the book bound, in the same way as it would be perfectly legal for you to simply print it off. Artistically, you can generally create and share whatever you like, it’s just when you start charging for it that things get complicated.

      Best,
      Rob

  30. Hi Rob,
    So my partner and I have written a show based off of a popular tv show that has now come to an end after many seasons. We have developed pretty much everything. All the characters, every main and subplot line, we have the whole season 1 developed to the fullest and have already started planning for the second. We have a pitch ready, we have every episode from 1-22 explained in detail, and the first 4 episodes in screenplay with a strong pilot. We want to contact these producer to be able to work with them. But how do we go about this the right way legally?

    1. Hi Preeth,

      Thanks for getting in contact. If you used an existing work as inspiration, but the result is wholly your own intellectual property (not using that work’s world, characters, stories, history, etc.), then you can treat your script as an original work, and simply progress with sending it out.

      If parts of your script still use elements of the existing show, things are more complicated. If you intend to contact the original producers, you can simply do so; you haven’t yet done anything with your scripts to encroach on their intellectual property. If you intend to contact someone else, this won’t be possible, as this property would be firmly in the possession of someone else.

      I’d suggest working anything from the existing show out of your scripts and then simply treating them as a new work.

      Best,
      Rob

  31. Hello! I have a question! I am working on a fan fiction pokemon comic with friends just for fun and I’m wanting to post it publicly. I’m not wanting to earn profit for it. It involves our own characters and some human characters from the anime. Includes an entirely new region and some “fakemon”.

    Would it be safe as long as I give The Pokemon Company credit and I don’t earn money from it?

    Thank you for reading!

    1. Hi Ancelin,

      Thanks for getting in contact. Given the volume of Pokemon fanfics available online, you’d likely be fine so long as you weren’t charging for access.

      Best,
      Rob

  32. Dear Mr. Wood
    First of all, I must ask you to forgive my terrible English, (Google translator + Dictionary). In my case, learning your language is a pending subject.
    My name is Néstor Hernández Pérez. I am Spanish, (Canary Islands, Gran Canaria). The Legion series of the FX has inspired and encouraged me to do a work. It takes as the initial stage part of the first chapter of eight chapters series. A character of fiction that does not appear in the series narrates in a daily form his experiences in the hospital, (that does come in the series) and outside of it, (places that do not appear in it). I use the psychiatric hospital, (Clockworks Hopital) the Great Hall, area for collective therapy and the doctor’s office, all these places come out in the series. Naturally I include descriptions. But other spaces that do not appear in the series are described in the work. Yes, there are several fictional characters in the series: David Haller, Sydney Barret, Lenny “Cornflakes” Burker and Doctor. But the dialogues are not those of the chapter, they are my invention, although the description of the characters and part of their psychology also belong to the script of the series. However, I introduce numerous data, or aspects of the personality of these people that also does not appear in the series. I enter details of Lenny Burker that do come out in Legion, (tattoos of henna hands) but I give a much more significant role, (sympathetic magic, traditional power channel). In the first chapter there are specific clothing for the hospital staff and sick people, and I make a reference to them in the past, generating an analogy with the uniforms of the prisoners of the German concentration camps.
    The purpose of my novel is NOT to plagiarize or copy the scriptwriters of the series, (Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern and Jennifer Yale). It is to use a fraction of the first chapter to PROMOTE or IMPULSE a character of my exclusive invention. Although I would like to go to the characters David Haller, Sydney Barrett and Lenny Burker in a second part. I DO NOT WISH TO DO BUSINESS, with the first book. I’ve been writing all my life and I’ve always made excuses not to make it public. This work inspired me and I do not want to throw in the towel. Do you think I should get in touch with Mr. Noah Hawley or FOX? Should I change things? Except in particular things is another narration, but with parallels.
    Thank you so much

    1. Hi Néstor,

      Thanks for getting in touch, and don’t worry about your English at all – Google translate has done you proud. Since the TV show Legion is already based on a Marvel comics character, it might be extra complicated to get permission, but it’s still worth a try.

      If you’re sharing for free (on a forum, for example), you don’t have to worry too much about getting permission. If you want to sell your work, however, my best advice is to write the book as you are, ‘finish’ your story, then go back and remove/change everything that’s owned by Fox and/or Marvel. A well-told story far enough along in its structural life will survive this process, and you’ll have an original work that’s only inspired by existing properties, and is yours to sell.

      Best,
      Rob

  33. I was thinking about making fan fiction as a means for income, and reading this is really enlightening. I was wondering if, for example, I wrote about Rowling’s characters, same name, same personality, but in a completely different universe. Like, a College AU, or a Café AU, or a modern AU, with or without their magical powers. Or perhaps, my very own Superhero AU or Fairytale AU, or something similar. Just not set in Hogwarts. What if I took Rowling’s characters and put them in a COMPLETELY different setting, with almost nothing from canonverse, other than their names, physical characteristics, and personality? Would I still be able to sell my work without ending up in court?

    On a side note: what of fanfiction based around the lives of real people?

    1. Hi Rai,

      Unfortunately, copyright and trademark law focus on concrete properties rather than concepts, so something like a character’s name and attached likeness are heavily protected. Surprisingly, you’d probably be safer writing about three friends attending a school for witchcraft and wizardry than you would taking those three specific characters and putting them in another setting. Parody might be one way around this, but even here, you likely wouldn’t be able to justify using the characters’ real names (see the Barry Trotter books, for example).

      Our article on writing about real people is linked below.
      //www.standoutbooks.com/use-real-people-celebrities/

      Best,
      Rob

  34. Hi,

    I have a really specific question on the copyright thing. There is this band I am listening to and their stuff (songtexts, music videos, etc.) is so inspiring that I’d like to write a book containing elements of their MVs.
    It’s really confusing to me because unlike most fan fictions about bands my story isn’t supposed to be about the actual members but about the characters they represent in the MVs. As far as I know taking characters isn’t a problem because the copyright is more on the character’s name than on the character itself (correct me if I’m wrong XD). However, the story would contain settings and plot points of the MVs but also a lot of plot points that I will add myself. First of all, I don’t really know if this would be considered a fanfiction or not. I am really confused because normally fan fictions are more about movies and books and not about MVs, but then there are songfics so I guess it still would be considered a fanfiction.
    What’s also confusing is that the band references other works of art, e.g. they quote a book, and I would like to use what they reference in their songs/MVs as well. I know that some books have passed the copyright thing already, but I didn’t look up everything that they’ve been using. So I would not only reference the band’s stuff but also other books, etc. and I am asking myself if this would change the copyright issue.
    I really think that the story that the MVs are telling would work as a great book (the story in the MVs is very loose and up to interpretation) and I would love to write that book. Also, this wouldn’t be a fan fiction in the sense of shipping someone that I’d like to be together, it is meant as a serious book (hope you know what I mean).
    Still, I am worried about the copyright stuff because I don’t want to offend anyone since to me it feels like a tribute to the band and it would be counterproductive if I’d pissed someone off who is inspiring to me. Also when I am finished with the writing I’d like to reach out to the band’s company (I can just hope that this will work) to get permission anyway, but I still wanted to inform myself about the copyright stuff just to be sure. And since I couldn’t find something specific when I googled something like “writing a book about music videos” I just figured that I could ask here.
    Hope you can give some advice on this.

    Thank you so much.
    Vanja

    1. Hi Vanja,

      A complex situation indeed. In terms of legality, you’re right that copyright and trademark issues tend to revolve around specific, protected properties rather than things like plot or themes. There have been cases of legal action taken over the latter, but generally without success as a) it’s so difficult to prove something has been copied and b) it takes so little to make a piece ‘transformative’ when it doesn’t use any protected property.

      Basically, if you don’t plan to use anything that’s specifically protected (as you say, names, inarguable likenesses, etc.) you should be okay, especially as it’s a story that’s open to interpretation and you’ll be adding heavily. The one area that might trip you up is the referenced texts, as not only will these have their own protections, but they could be used as evidence in a legal case – the story being similar isn’t enough, but there might be an argument if you’d clearly referenced all the same things.

      That said, the kind of sampling and referencing you mention sounds like it would fall under fair use, so on its own, this should also be fine.

      Overall, it sounds like you’ve been heavily influenced by some great art. So long as your intention is to build something of your own from that influence, that should infuse the result, and that’s the intention of all the law surrounding this issue – that no-one gets to profit off anyone else’s work, but new, inspired works are free to prosper.

      Best,
      Rob

  35. Thanks very much for your article. Very helpful. My fan fiction story is a sequel to Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. Mine begins where Faulkner’s ends. The main character in mine is Emily’s butler who “makes sure Homer sleeps late every morning.” Then he becomes a hobo and tells other hobos around a campfire why he did it.

    Faulkner published his story in 1930, so I assume it’s still not public domain. But I’ve found it available dozens of places on the Internet as if it is public domain. Kind of confusing, but I’m tempted to submit mine to a few “fan fiction” places and see if it flies. Would appreciate your comments as well.

    Bill

      1. Thanks Rob. I’ve never been enthusiastic about fan fiction–writing it myself or reading what others have created. My sequel to A Rose for Emily was the result of a writing prompt at a writers forum. It was so well received, I thought perhaps I should explore ways to share it with a more general audience. Your blog, however, makes me think it may not be worth the effort or the risk of, at the very least, being embarrassed at having offended Faulkner’s family–or publishers

        1. Hi Bill,

          Copyright and trademark law is drafted with the express intention of allowing new works and approaches to flourish, and the literary canon has been graced with many stories that are fan fiction in all but name. I’d certainly encourage you to explore sharing your work – it’s not as difficult as it may seem, and there’s a lot of precedent.

          If not, however, be sure to recycle everything you can from it in later works. If readers love it, it deserves to live on in some form. The article below expands on this.

          //www.standoutbooks.com/need-recycle-writing-ideas/

          Best,
          Rob

          1. Thanks for the encouragement, Rob. Will definitely look further into the possibilities. People following this blog might enjoy reading a craft essay titled “7 Perks of Fan Fiction” at an e-zine where some of my craft essays have been published. It also encouraged me to take a closer look at the benefits of writing fan fiction. It’s a short but very informative article:

            http://pagespineficshowcase.com/the-writers-table/7-perks-of-fanfiction-prex-jd-v-ybasco

    1. Hi H.D.,

      Depending on content, there are a lot of potential issues, as covered in the article and other comments. That said, King has engaged in a number of projects that fit the bill of being fan fiction themselves, so it’s possible he’s sympathetic to such projects based on his own work.

      Best,
      Rob

  36. Hello! I’m so glad I found this thread because I’ve had some serious questions about getting my fanfiction published.

    My fanfic plot is completely original and focuses on themes of mental illness that the original work/show does not touch upon at all. Basically, I used the characters and their original names in the fanfiction and some of their personality traits; however, I completely changed their background stories. For example, Character A has trust issues in the show, so instead of using the background story they gave them, I completely made up my own family backstory for them to produce a similar resulting personality.

    I tried to keep their individual storylines and overall plot original, so if I change their names and descriptions, it couldn’t be tied to that original work at all. This makes me think I can publish it for profit, but what I need to know is how much of the story dialogue and description can I keep from the fanfiction work? Can I have a conversation that is word for word from the fanfiction in the new work I would like to publish? (Mind you, it can be found nowhere in the original work/show.)

    I feel like my fanfiction can stand alone and be self-contained with its own characters once I make slight changes to physical descriptions, change relationship dynamic (ex. lovers to platonic friends), and names, but I love what I’ve written already so far and would like to know how much of the work I can keep the same?

    If you have any advice or corrections for me, I’d be extremely grateful.
    Thank you for your help,
    A.E.

    1. Hi AJ,

      So long as you remove protected materials from your story – those related to the original work – you can use as much of your fan fiction as you like. The original fan fiction isn’t ‘tainted’ by its relationship to protected properties, so as long as they’re removed, everything else is fair game.

      Best,
      Rob

  37. Thanks for this helpful article. It’s much appreciated.

    I wonder how if the same rules would apply if your doing an in depth analysis on another’s body of work.

    I want to write an ebook analyzing a Director’s Body of Work and would reference the film a lot is this okay? Legal? The Director is long dead btw.

    1. Hi L,

      It would depend on the specifics, but analysis tends to give you a lot of leeway in terms of what’s considered fair use, so that’s probably the best path to follow.

      Best,
      Rob

  38. Thanks for the article!
    I still have some questions though.
    Years ago I started writing a fanfiction of “The Vampire Diaries” in Italian, and I posted it on an Italian fanfiction site. It started as a “what if?”, as it’s called in fanfiction: basically I continued the story from the end of the third season, making some changes, and adding new characters. The starting doesn’t differ too much from the TV show besides new places, new characters and new enemies, because it solves some unfinished businesses between the characters of the TV show, but then the story focuses on the triangle between two new characters plus one of the TV show, and the fight with the new enemies. Since I can’t stop writing about them, the fanfiction became a serie itself, involving more and more new characters, enemies and situations. That means that if it was a regular story it would be made of 6 books. That’s why I started wondering if I could publish them, and searching around I found that “The Vampire Diaries” it’s on Kindle Words, but the problem is that since I’m Italian I can’t use it to publish them.
    Is there a workaround? Could I ask permission for using the copyrighted characters here in Italy?
    Thanks,
    Elena.

    1. Hi Elena,

      Thanks for asking. I’m not sure about the international restrictions on Kindle Worlds, but having made their property available in that way, it’s likely they’ll be open to helping you find a way to make your fan fiction available. I’d suggest getting in touch via Twitter first, where they can get some good publicity out of helping you out.

      Best,
      Rob

  39. hi could You please help me? I intend to write a novel and nickname my characters based upon the names from the names from the game Tales of Destiny… the point is that my characters chose those names in honor of that game’s characters – as tribute to that game’s developers… would that be allowed?

    thanks in advance

    1. i forgot to mention that i plan to specify both in story and comments that the names are tribute not my property

      1. Hi Emil,

        Thanks for asking. It’s a tricky area, because it skirts the line between what could be completely legal and what a publisher might still want to dissuade with legal action. I’m afraid I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I’d suggest only using these nicknames for a couple of characters as a way to still pay tribute without inviting the same level of potential scrutiny.

        Best,
        Rob

        1. thanks a lot 😀 … i never thought it would be so difficult to pay tribute to someones great work… i was planning on using 6 names and that would be ONLY reference to the game… i guess i’ll just have to wait for answer from them then… thanks again for everything

          1. Hi Emil,

            It’s a shame – and as I say, you might be fine – but that sounds like the safest course of action.

            Best,
            Rob

  40. Hi Rob!
    I was planning on writting of a fanfiction and publishing it on my blog. But after reading your article I think I need your help. I don’t plan to use the characters or storyline and not even the map of the universe. I just wanted to use the powers of the characters used in the the last Airbender universe. All those bendings mentioned in the movie was something I wanted to use. Is it legal?

    1. Hi Snehanshu,

      There’s no definitive answer – powers and abilities are hard to define in legal terms, but not impossible if they’re distinctive enough – but as a free story on a blog, you’d likely be fine either way.

      Best,
      Rob

  41. Mr. Woods,
    I have been reading this line of conversation while trying to ascertain if I am potentially in violation of copyright laws. I have been a coauthor in a project for many years now. We are rewriting and fixing our “world” until it works for us. My problem is not characters, I have those, it’s items. This is based in a fantasy world where pop culture references are attainable items. So your character is able to progress through a quest line, and at the end, they can attain for example the Sword of Power from He-Man. Then when you say the phrase “By the power of Grayskull,” you become an overpowered barbarian for a limited time. Are we able to do something like this.? Thank you for your time.
    Respectfully,
    Justin

      1. Hi Mr. Foster,

        No problem whatsoever. Unfortunately, the type of arrangement you describe would likely result in legal difficulties. The names and properties are being used in a way that doesn’t offer much protection. It’s a shame, and it’s why everything is eventually intended to pass into public domain (things like He-Man have a place in pop culture that artists should be able to address), but none of the protections really apply (a reckless author might risk claiming parody, but it’d be unlikely to get them very far.)

        My best advice is to reference the properties in a way that readers will recognize, but which doesn’t borrow explicitly from protected terminology. A sword that turns you into a barbarian when you shout a phrase isn’t protected, but that phrase being ‘By the power of Grayskull’ is. I know that’s not great news, but the silver lining is that readers will often be charmed by understanding the reference, and you can be pretty overt about your references, so long as you stay away from the words and images that are protected.

        Best,
        Rob

  42. Hi! This question doesn’t completely correspond with this article, but I am hoping that it is close enough to count here! I am considering attempting to start a small retail business to sell Harry Potter and Harry Potter inspired literary works, and I was wondering if it was legal to name such a shop the name of one from the books, such as if I wanted to name it: “Flourish and Blotts” (which I would actually like to name it). I’m sorry if this is too far off base, but I don’t really know how else to find this information. Thank you for your help!

    1. Hi Allie,

      I’m afraid that name would be protected property – I can’t see there being much chance at all of it being usable. There’s a shop in York, England, that sells licensed Harry Potter merchandise called ‘The Shop That Must Not Be Named’; this kind of referencing without quoting would probably be your best shot.

      Best,
      Rob

  43. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the article. It is very helpful and explained a lot of things that I didn’t actually know. I was planning on writing a fanfiction and posting for other readers. If I was to write the fanfiction about a character from a movie with the same name, personality and setting but with a different story line, would I get into any legal trouble? I am not planning on making profit from it. Thank you for your time
    Sincerely,

    M

    1. Hi M,

      So long as it’s just fan fiction that you’re sharing with others for free, you should be safe from any legal troubles, but you’d definitely run into difficulties if you took a more commercial route.

      Best,
      Rob

  44. Thank you for the information. So I’m guessing a self-published Star Wars story is a no-no, unfortunately. Although with the new movies out, the existing books with Han and Leia having children and family fighting for right together have become AU fanfiction that’s published, right? I write fanfiction for fun, for free, but it gets way more reviews and likes and follows than my actual published work—lol. Too bad I can’t make money with it!

    1. Hi Melinda,

      A no-no indeed, unfortunately. Monetization-wise, the best thing I can suggest is using your fan fiction to direct fans to your original work. It’s not foolproof, but it’s better than nothing, especially if the fanfic is mainly for fun anyway.

      Best,
      Rob

  45. hello! ive recently been thinking a lot about my past with fanfiction, and realized that a couple years ago i wrote a work with characters from the tv show supernatural and published it on archiveofourown if i can recall. I never actually got much attention from it (one comment haha) or tried to sell it, should i be worried about getting into legal trouble?

    1. Hi lonnie,

      It’s very unlikely to be flagged as an issue, and if it is, the most likely outcome is that it’s just taken down, so I wouldn’t worry.

      Best,
      Rob

  46. A couple of corrections:

    1) Your definition of the “amount and substantiality” factor is backwards. It has to do with how much of the original is reused and how significant the reused parts are, rather than how much of the derived work is from the original. It has been held that quoting a single line of someone else’s short poem in a long novel without permission is infringement. One line is not much of a whole novel, but it is quite a lot of a short poem.

    2) It is important to understand that the four factors are not bright-line tests that derivative works must pass, but criteria that a court must weigh. A work might be held noninfringing even if it fails two of the factors if the court decides that the other two factors outweigh them in this particular case.

    3) In one of your comments you refer to copyright infringement as a crime. There is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement, but it involves making verbatim copies for sale. Criminal prosecutions for unauthorized derivative works are essentially unheard-of.

    I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for commenting – it’s great for the comments to become an asset, which is certainly something I think has happened with this article.

      As with your own comment, the article isn’t intended as legal advice, but as a primer for self-publishing authors. In this case, we’ve focused on the measures that can keep authors confident that they’re not risking a court case, rather than the minutiae of how a case would be judged. As editors, we encounter a high volume of writers who want to be sure they haven’t done anything accidental, rather than those who want to be sure they can justify the deliberately risky.

      As regards the term ‘crime’, I was speaking in the colloquial sense – an act for which there will be pre-established, negative legal consequences – which is hopefully clear from context.

      Best,
      Rob

  47. Hi Rob,
    First, thank you so much for writing this article and also all the advice you’ve given in the comments. I have a question though. So, I’d like to publish a fanfic that is based on a storyline blending fantasy and our ‘real’ world. However, my story is a completely realistic story (no magic) and centers around a specific theme of illness and recovery that is completely different from the original show. I used the characters, but gave them different backstories that weren’t magical. However, the main character (who happens to be the main protagonist in the show) is an orphan/foster kid from the ‘real world.’ I’m wondering if I have to change her background, or can I keep her a foster kid still? In the show, it rarely had flashbacks and vague details. We just knew she was in group homes. I’d like to keep her general background of not being adopted when she was a kid. Have I made enough changes in everyone else’s backgrounds that I can stick to her being another foster kid?

    If you could help, I’d appreciate it.

    Thanks! -Krys

    1. Hi Krys,

      In terms of what’s protected – and therefore what it’s risky to produce – the law tends to deal with specific, objective assets. For example, terminology, names, quotes from the original, etc. Chains of events (such as backstory) are difficult to define, so unless they’re exactly the same, you should be fine there. To be honest, it’s using the same names that’s most likely to cause issues.

      For example, you could probably publish a story in which a character attends a wizarding school and fights a dark lord without legal issues, but if you write something with main characters named ‘Harry’, ‘Ron’, and ‘Hermione’, that’s where the trouble starts (indeed, use a character named ‘Harry Potter’ and you’d be in real danger).

      Again, though, this type of legal trouble is generally only relevant when publishing for financial gain.

      Best,
      Rob

  48. What do you do when it’s the other way around, and “Holly Wood” or the established ‘legitimate’ agency borrows from Fan Fiction? Everyone is all about copy rights and intellectual integrity when it’s about shutting out the voices of others, but rarely do these agency recognize the fact that their ‘talent’ isn’t as good as the fan fiction, but that there isn’t a pathway to legitimacy for those outside the ‘click.’ I have proof that ‘the last Jedi’ borrowed from my fan-fiction. This wasn’t just coincidental, synchronistic parallel development. There were direct quotes from the dialogue used in their script. But who am I? Who will acknowledge my side, or any of the other fan fiction authors who only want to be recognized fro contributing to the thing they love.

    But you don’t even have to take my word for it. Read my both my star wars fan fiction and see for yourself. Google my name. John Erik Ege and “Star Wars: a Force to COntend With,” and “Star Wars: A Dark Run.” Even if you think it’s trash writing, you can clearly see the direct quotes, themes, and Jedi abilities not seen previously in my stories. My Star Trek Fiction, which has over a 150k downloads, is more popular than the star wars writings, and there is evidence that the 2008 reboot borrowed from those stories, but you don’t have to take my word on that either. JJ Abrams, in a letter to Forbes, admitted to ‘reading fan fiction’ to get the idea for his script.

    More often than not, fan fiction offers more substance than what is turned out in mainstream productions, and we, fans, just want a path way to legitimacy. We want to share our ideas and validation, because the stuff coming from the other side is frequently insulting.

    1. Hi John,

      That sounds like a terrible experience. The intent of the laws around plagiarism is to protect original creators while allowing subsequent creative expression. In terms of rights, you should, in theory, have the same protections and options as a big-budget creator.

      Cases in which established creatives have stolen from less well-known colleagues have been numerous, and are often settled in the latter’s favor (or, more often, an agreement is reached between the two). If you feel there’s enough evidence of a) things being stolen from your work, b) a clear chronological relationship where your ideas could have been stolen before the other work was created, and c) the creator of the subsequent work specifically saying they read fan fiction, I’d suggest taking that to a legal professional and exploring your options.

      Best,
      Rob

  49. Hi Rob,

    Firstly thank you for taking the time and effort to write such a comprehensive and clear article.

    My son (8 years old) is a big fan of reading books and has been talking about writing his own book for some time now. He has come up with the idea of writing “The Unofficial Guide to the Characters of X”. Being inspired by a book published by a 15 Year Old Duncan Levy entitled “The Unofficial Harry Potter Spell Book” he wants to write about real characters from a successful book and movie series. (Not Harry Potter.)

    Whilst I am not keen on anxiously waiting for the letter from the publishers lawyers to arrive in the mail, I want to help him with his writing and publishing ambitions.

    Levy’s book does not use Harry Potter images or mention any Harry Potter characters. It does, however, use the real spell names and describes their impact and use.

    My question is whilst I can find plenty of “unofficial” harry potter guides online, is it still considered fair use to write and publish a book that lists the real characters of a book series and describe them (in original words) in detail?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Jenny,

      If it’s non-fiction, as you describe, and you’re clear that it’s unofficial, you should be fine. From what you say, this a) doesn’t re-appropriate protected assets, just discusses them and b) verges on review or criticism (in a technical sense), which bring their own protections.

      There are sizeable protections for discussing media since a lot of our culture is caught up in doing so. YouTube would be scoured clean if deep-dives into protected properties didn’t come with protections.

      The biggest thing I’d suggest watching out for is how much of the original text is reproduced. When discussing something in this way, you’re protected by fair use. What that means in each case is elastic, but so long as you don’t go overboard, this too shouldn’t be an issue.

      Best,
      Rob

    2. Hey man I say if you’re going to do Creative Nonfiction, this is going to give you a lot of millage if you pull this off, Wandering In Darkness though a work of real person Gothic Horror. It’s got sixteen creative nonfiction sources playing into it and using a real climate and city. You have the real histories to go with it. Beyond this link on my name in 2007 I ushered two invited guests from the Edgar Allan Poe fandom.

  50. Hi and thanks for the helpful article!
    For clarification purposes, is the actual writing of said fan fiction illegal in itself, or merely the publication of it (even when free)?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi L.G.,

      My pleasure. Writing fan fiction isn’t illegal, and it can even be distributed legally in many circumstances. It’s when fan fiction authors start profiting that things get dicey.

      Best,
      Rob

  51. I have a inquiry. I read a previous comment about a Pokemon Fan Fic and it eased my mind a little. However I have an idea that my 4 year old daughter inspired when she chose a specific Pokemon Plush toy around Christmas. I have an idea for a whole fan fic series that would take place in the Pokemon world and at times characters from the anime/games/manga would show up. I hadn’t planned on creating anything knew aside from the story and adventures of the protagonist in my fan fic. As long as I’m not charging for people to read it I should be safe to use the names of characters from the franchise correct?

    1. Hi R.D.,

      In exact terms, it depends on the situation, but if you’re not charging for the work, things are much safer. I’d suggest always making it clear that your writing is unofficial, but I’d also point to the thousands of people who have shared Pokemon fanfic for free without any issues.

      Best,
      Rob

  52. This is really interesting. Great article!

    What if you write fan fiction about living people? Popstars, for example. Bands. Movie stars. Are you allowed to charge people to read it, and can the individual sue you for doing it?

    Thanks!

  53. Krystopher Douglas

    I have a few questions. I would like to write a fan fiction based on a gaming session I ran with a few friends based in the World of Darkness RPG. I would like to sell the story that came from the sessions and use the characters that my friends created. None of the characters are existing in the WoD genre and some of the abilities would be changed to fit the story. 1) would I be okay, legally, to use the existing clan names and existing titles, but use the characters we created? 2) would it be okay if I were to change some of the abilities and powers that already exist in the RPG? The story would consist of all manner of supernatural creatures, like in WoD, but would have a twist on them to fit the story. Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated, thank you.

    1. Hi Krystopher,

      Ideally, you’ll want to steer away from all easily definable assets like names (including clan names), while systems (like how powers work) are harder to define and thus safer to use.

      Best,
      Rob

  54. Hi! I recently wrote a fan fiction using the setting and characters of a YouTube series/Anime along with my own plot and characters. I changed most of the names that I borrowed, only leaving one or two of which had common names.

    Would this cause legal problems if I published it with the intention of making a profit?

    1. Hi Em,

      Unfortunately, I can’t offer absolute advice (nor can I give legal advice), but from what you say, you’ve done what I’d advise to turn fanfiction into something you can sell.

      Best,
      Rob

  55. Hi Rob
    To keep it simple for my benefit if there was a book out there that got made into a film about a plane that could do fancy tricks and I decided to write a book saying I found this plane years later ( same plane’s name ) and I referred to its previous owner in my story but sent it on a new adventure would this be seen as a breach of copyright even if the original author passed away over 20 years ago ?

    1. Hi Glen,

      Unfortunately, this would probably be the case, yes. Names are a particular issue, so this might be viable if you could instead work through implication.

      Best,
      Rob

  56. Andrea (Angel) Brozek

    What I’d like to know, if you can tell me, is what legal restrictions, if any, would apply to an alternate history novel about an actual person, now dead. In the story, the protagonist survives an assassination attempt and decides to let the world believe that he is actually dead, He is rich, very famous, and because he fears another attempt on his life, he has minor plastic surgery, leaves his old life behind, and hides himself away on an island he’d once bought on a whim and subsequently given to a commune of hippies. You get the picture.
    Most of the characters are of my own creation, but the protagonist actually existed. There are a few other characters in the story who are also real.
    Since all of these actual folks are public figures, am I okay including them in my book?
    I love how the story came out, so I’d hate to have to alter it. Must I?

  57. Hi,

    I’ve been writing fanfiction for about six years now (and I’ve been putting it up on sites for others to read for about four years). After reading your article, I understand the legal ramifications if I ever decided to publish it with the intent of profiting from it. The question that I do have is this: I’ve decided to put some of my fics on other platforms because some websites cater better to story types than others, but I stumbled across the “copyright” button on Wattpad and I was really confused by it? Because the fanfiction that I do write uses copyrighted characters (which your article clarified was allowed so long as it’s not for my own monetary gain), what I am concerned about is people using my fics and reposting them on other sights under different titles. I’m about to start publishing on Wattpad, and it gives me several options- like “all rights reserved” and “creative commons”- which I’m not 100% sure on, as I use copyrighted characters but it’s mostly my own work. Could you maybe clarify how I should go about this and if I should select a type of copyright they offer?
    Many thanks,
    Isabel

    1. Hi Isabel,

      You’re unable to protect aspects borrowed from other works, so what you’re being asked to select is the protections that apply to what’s original. This tends to vary, from as much protection as possible to allowing people to use your work as long as you’re credited. ‘All Rights Reserved’ means that, quoting Wattpad’s own FAQs, ‘the copyright holder retains all the rights provided by copyright law, such as distribution, performance, and creation of their work. In some ways, you have total control over your story, but since copyright doesn’t give you a complete monopoly, others can still use your story in certain ways, [for example] by including short excerpts in reviews…’

      That should be all you need to either prevent people posting your work elsewhere or give you the tools to effectively have it taken down if they do. You can also see the below article for dedicated advice on this:

      //www.standoutbooks.com/website-stolen-work-solution/

      Best,
      Rob

  58. Hi I’m writing a book series and I’m a beginner. I know what makes a good book only i don’t know how to publish my book. I am using Dc characters who already exist and some of my own creations. For example I’m using Nightwing for my books. How can I use this character the was he is and publish my book without it being illegal?

    1. Hi Nichole,

      I’m afraid it’s going to be impossible to use that character in your own commercial work unless DC hires you to write them. As described in the article, there may be ways you can share your work with others safely, but it’s unlikely this will be possible in a way that turns a profit.

      Best,
      Rob

  59. Nancy Reil Riojas

    Hello Robert Woods, I am in a situation that I believe may be somewhat different than the comments posted above. And I hope you can offer some opinion. I am a retired Texas real estate agent and began my writing career in 2009. I wrote a novella titled “Moonshiner” and copyrighted it in 2010, published in 2010. It was for sale for 11 months when I pulled it off the market as I felt I could have said more. I wrote a longer version, a short novel, as an ebook and changed the title to “Moonshiner the Wolf.” This Disney-like novel has been on the market since 2011. After MTW I wrote a novella, an ebook, Monster at My Window also in 2011, copyrighted in 2011 and this sci-fi novella has been on the market since then. In 2012 I began the sequel to MAMW and titled it “Night Invaders,” but did not finish this sci-fi short novel, only 50,000 words so far, due to illness, consequently it remained in my computer for several years unfinished and had not yet copyrighted it but had emailed it to my daughter several times for her review of updates.
    Fast forward to October 2017.
    A beta reader of mine who read Monster at My Window 6 years prior contacted me to say that he identified my Monster at My Window in, let’s say, a group of writers’ work. I acquired the work and positively identified over 90+ lifts from my narrative. But this is where it turns quite strange. It also featured 80+ lifts from Night Invaders which had never been published, yet I did feature excerpts of NI at the end of Monster at My Window, beginning sometime in 2012- 2013. I admit, I was in a quandary. I could not understand how this could happen. Sleepless nights. One week later I discovered the same organization but a different group of writers produced another work, different story, yet featured 71+ lifts from my narratives, both MAMW and NI. This continued through December 2017 and into January 2018 as I discovered a total of 21 works! Within those works they even pulled a great number of ideas from the above mentioned Moonshiner the Wolf. Turns out one of the writers from this organization wrote a sci-fi book of his own. I ordered it and read it and noted 380+ lifts from my Moonshiner the Wolf and Monster at My Window. He attended creative writing classes with his friend, and that friend wrote a novel, copyrighted in 2013 that I purchased and read. He lifted 447+ ideas from my MTW. And his novel is a television series, second series airs this year, the opposite of female offspring is _____. And it does not end there, unfortunately.
    I somewhat understand the Intellectual Property Infringement laws, that ideas are not copyrightable, but if the infringers blatantly lift a more than substantial amount of ideas from the original writer’s works and do not ask permission, then can the original writer voice that his/her works were featured within these infringing writers’ works? After all, the perpetrators earn millions. If not, that is not a fair shake because these cases are rarely won, and the one infringed upon pays tens of thousands just to start the process. Thank you for your time, sincerely, Nancy Reil Riojas, August 5, 2018.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for commenting – the experience you describe is one many writers fear. I should begin by saying I’m not qualified to offer legal advice, and none of the following is intended as such.

      You own your work as soon as you create it, it’s yours by default, so however and whenever it’s stolen, you retain your rights, and no-one can use it without your permission.

      Yes, ideas are much harder to protect, but this varies. The more specific an idea, the more protection is available, and if someone has stolen so many ideas from you, it’s entirely possible there’s a legal case. Given that you seem to have a specific list of stolen assets and a timeline of when the thefts likely occurred, it could be well worth your time to make preliminary contact with a legal professional and get their perspective on what to do next.

      Best,
      Rob

  60. Hi!

    This was such a helpful guide! I still want to pose a question. Sorry if it’s already been asked but there’s a lot in the comments section to wade through.

    If I sold a limited release of a physical copy of one of my fan fictions, do you think I would be okay? It’s fan fiction of a TV show that has finished airing and the premise of the story is set in the future and mostly deals with parallel universes of the canon show. The story itself is original, although it uses the established world and characters.

    I don’t think it would count as competition because the show has finished airing and there is no book series to compete with, and I think if I were only conducting sales for a month or two as the form of a fan-zine, I think I would be okay, but I was wondering your thoughts on the matter.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Amy,

      As with everything on this page, I’m not qualified to offer legal advice, and the following shouldn’t be taken as such.

      The problem with what counts as competition is that we’re not talking about what that term might mean in general use. A case could be made that since they’re theoretically still ABLE to produce a competing work, yours is an issue, or even just that they consider a work harmful to their brand. If you think about Disney, for example, they’re rarely shutting down anyone they consider actual competition – their concern is more with retaining control of how their intellectual property is perceived. A lot of companies will pursue legal action on this general principle, even if fan work is excellent and they have no plans to make anything similar.

      So, certainly there are still potential issues there. At the same time, I’m consciously representing the most cautious approach. Other people would observe that the chances of anyone bothering to make your life difficult over a fan-fiction fan-zine for a show that’s no longer on are minimal, but I would underline the fact that there’s a big difference between ‘this is fine’ and ‘you probably won’t get caught’.

      Best,
      Rob

  61. JustAnotherFangirl

    Hello, Sir.
    I would like to know what kind of copyright should I choose if I am publishing my fanfiction on Wattpad? There are no options for derivative work or parody there are options like Creative Commons attributions and Non commercial der. etc. Please help.

    1. Hi JustAnotherFangirl,

      I’m afraid any detailed answer would just be copied and pasted from Wattpad’s FAQs, but it sounds like there’s been a small misunderstanding as regards what these options describe. I believe the intent is that you’re choosing the way in which you present the new work (and therefore setting the parameters for how other authors can interact with it) rather than describing its relationship to pre-existing works. I may be wrong, but this would follow the idea that a lot of protections for derivative works are defences to an accusation rather than something you declare ahead of time.

      Best,
      Rob

  62. Really interesting article, but could you confirm in your opinion whether it is ok to write a reimagining of a published work? Trying to bring it up to date with language of the now rather than of the 20s/30s? and title it xxxxx Reimagined? Thanks

    1. Hi Jon,

      The short answer is that I’d expect that approach to end in legal trouble. It utilizes intellectual property in a way that treads on the rights of other parties – even if that’s just that they don’t want anyone else to use it for anything. That said, everything passes into public domain eventually, so if a piece is old enough, this would absolutely be viable. You can, for instance, do pretty much whatever you like with Sherlock Holmes.

      Best,
      Rob

  63. Hi there

    What would happen if a novella was self published on the likes of lulu.com whereby a story was told that was a springboard story from where season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery left off and used the ST characters but went in a totally unknown way, my own creation? Would it infringe copyright?

    1. Hi Rob,

      Yes, that would likely be the case. Things like character and franchise names are very heavily protected. That said, this tends to be a lot more serious when money is changing hands. If it’s just being shared for free, there’s a much lower chance of encountering any trouble.

      Best,
      Rob

    1. I would think so but to whoever has the film rights which might be someone rich and famous rather than some like Kurtzmann. Singers like Bono and Sting own all sorts of rights to stuff. So I am led to believe.

    2. Hi Epsilon,

      A lot of what an author is getting paid for when a book is adapted into a film is the right for someone else to use their intellectual property in certain ways. Things get complicated from there, but you’re generally talking about a different (often more litigious) entity when it comes to movie adaptations. As Rob observes, that right to use intellectual property in a certain way is something you can buy on its own, even if you don’t end up using it. This is part of why copyright is so dicey for fan-fiction authors; often, what’s being defended is the exclusive right to use intellectual property in a certain way, whether or not the infringement ‘matters’ on an immediate, financial level.

      Best,
      Rob

  64. I’ve written a mock-interview in which a character from the show Big Mouth sits for an interview with a fictional academic-achievement publication. I thought about putting on my writing blog (with a disclaimer that I hold no intellectual property related to the show and am just a fan), and then maybe tweeting a link to it on the show’s official Twitter account (which receives lots of fan art, cosplay pics etc). How much trouble does this invite?

    1. William Reynolds

      Update: I decided it wasn’t worth any legal risk, so I just deleted it and chalked it up to experience. Oh well. Thanks anyway!

      1. Hi William,

        This is one of those cases where you’re probably not going to encounter any problems, but that ‘probably’ is an assumption of good will that is just that – an assumption. In such cases, you would usually be asked to remove the work before things got any more serious than that, but again… ‘usually’.

        Either way, it sounds like you have a healthy perspective on what has been – if nothing else – a great writing exercise. The article linked below may be useful in getting the most out of this experience as possible.

        //www.standoutbooks.com/need-recycle-writing-ideas/

        Best,
        Rob

  65. Hello Rob
    Thanks for the detailed and critically important article. I guess you have been questioned this inquiry on several occasions and in different styles, so apologies if I am seeking it from a different perspective. What if the characters names assigned in the novel, and by coincidence (that’s probably very likely) are similar to names of people in real life, whether famous or not … would that be considered infringement ? I mean at some point all names are potentially assigned to different people word wide, so it is very possible that such character name will somehow match someone’s real name. Especially that in novels it is preferable to assign first and surname to make the character more realistic … thanks for answering this puzzling question.

    1. Hi P.L,

      In theory, this is fine. As you say, there are only so many names. The only potential issue is that the law isn’t so much about what happens as what is seen to have happened. By this, I mean the main worry would be that a genuinely innocent name is taken as an attempt at sneaky defamation or an attempt to hijack someone’s brand. In the case of actual coincidence, this is very unlikely, but worth mentioning in this context.

      The article below may shed some more light on this subject:
      //www.standoutbooks.com/use-real-people-celebrities/

      Best,
      Rob

  66. Dear Mr. Wood,

    Thank you very much for your informative article and answers.

    My questions concern a non-commercial fanfiction to be made available on the internet for free. This fanfic is a group effort, and it’s an illustrated comics-style remix of an existing, text-only fanfic that was published by another author on fanfiction.net. That other author’s fanfiction is a crossover from an original, well known book, an extremely successful video game franchise, and a successful TV series. It also contains a number of original characters by the fanfiction author. The fanfic has several hundreds of thousands of words, and consists of an original, complex, and creative story that nevertheless fits seamlessly into the story lines of the original franchises, explaining and reinterpreting certain aspects of the originals in unexpected ways. All owners of the original properties are independent commercially of each other. Of course we credit the work of the owners / creators of the originals, including the fanfic author’s alias on fanfiction.net, and add the usual disclaimers for fanfics of non-ownership.

    Do we need permission from the author of the textual fanfiction on which our graphics fanfiction is based? What if the author is not responsive?

    In case we can’t get the permission from the fanfic author, what if we want to reuse parts of the dialogs from the fanfiction? If that’s not advisable, what about paraphrases? Also, the fanfic uses some signature phrases (few words, something like the “Inconceivable!” from the movie The Princess Bride) that are well known from characters from the TV series.

    On another line, is it OK to use images from the original works, such as cut-outs of the animated characters from the video game, or cut-outs from screenshots from the video of human actors from the TV show, or background scenery images? Of course the context would be different from the original scenes. What of using new artwork, but where characters and even scenery are still obviously inspired or even clearly recognizable? What if the scenery that was used in the TV series is one from reality, for instance a certain famous place in the real world? What if the scenery is from an unknown but real place? What if it is redrawn from that place?

    Sorry for so many questions…

    Best,
    Yanna

    1. Hi Yanna,

      Thanks for the kind words and your questions. I’m not qualified to offer legal advice, and the following shouldn’t be taken as such.

      As regards the other person’s fan-fiction, it sounds like you’re on very shaky ground. The new characters and exact wording are theirs – if you don’t get their permission to use them, I wouldn’t suggest doing so. Unfortunately, if they don’t get back to you, you haven’t attained their permission.

      As regards the original work, certainly anything directly from it – such as images, iconic phrases, or character names – are likely to be protected. Real-world places are real world places, and your use of them could be justified, but re-drawing a specific shot from a show would be inadvisable.

      If the work is provided for free, the original rights holders may be less likely to have a problem with it, but the same probably can’t be said for the fan-fic writer, who is operating in similar circles to those in which the work will be provided. Of course, these are just general assumptions based on what’s usually the case, and things may go differently.

      I sympathize entirely with the situation you describe, but a lot of these issues are deal-breakers, and the kind of things that it’s generally best to settle before you begin work on a project. If you can’t reach the fan-fiction writer, my personal advice would be to move on to another project.

      Best,
      Rob

  67. Hi,

    Could you expand on how safe it is/what changes are required to use plot lines from someone else’s work in an original commercial work? I have a couple of works that started as fanfiction and which follow on from the events in the other author’s book (for example, one work is an alternative ending/continuation and one takes off in a very different direction but with very similar back story). The bulk of the work is my original plot and writing, but the set-up/back story is strongly based on the other author’s work. I have changed the character names and a lot of the details, but some of the basic plot line can’t be completely changed (who is related to who, chains of events, for example) even though many small to medium exact details can be changed.

    There are going to be strong back story plot similarities apparent to someone very familiar with the original, but are these similarities actually enough to make it illegal?

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi C,

      It’s next to impossible to pursue someone for re-using plot elements. They’re such complex, hard-to-define webs of ideas that there’s no single thing (like a name or visual design) to protect. It sounds like you should be absolutely fine (though obviously I haven’t seen the work itself, and that’s not a legal opinion.)

      Best,
      Rob

  68. Valentina Sodiro

    Dear Rob:

    Thank you for writing such a clear article, it helped me a lot.

    However, I’d like to ask a question to which I found no answer neither in the article nor in the comments. My question is: would it be safe to accept donations? For instance, if I wrote a derivative story from the work of J. K Rowling, and decided to make it available for others to read, could I safely ask for a donation?

    Thanks in advance, Valentina.

    1. Hi Valentina,

      Thanks for such a great question. The problem is that while the law on this subject is clear, its application isn’t. It’s not purely the case that selling something makes it illegal, it’s just that selling something is usually what a) gets the attention of whoever owns the property in question and b) puts you in a situation where they start asking for more than just taking your work down (i.e. for their cut of the sales and any damages they feel they’ve incurred.)

      Theoretically, donations are less risky than direct sales, but the distinction on a one-for-one basis is minimal – you’re still making money from someone else’s work, so they may still ask for that money. If you were someone who produced a lot of work and accepted donations for it as a whole (via Patreon, for example,) that would be safer still, since now there’s an argument to be made that the money in question isn’t directly related to the protected property. Again, though, what we’re really talking about is how you’d avoid getting the property owner’s attention and how you’d defend yourself from any subsequent demands, rather than what is definitively protected by law.

      While there is a growing effort to make this area of law clearer for artists, the only totally safe method at the moment is to avoid using protected properties. Otherwise, it’s a game of what’s accepted enough in the moment to get away with. To be fair, a lot of people play that game successfully; fan fiction is a thriving market in which many people get paid and many people accept donations.

      Best,
      Rob

  69. What if I am trying to portray a game character, outfit and all, but the outfit was not made by the original creator of said character, and was very well made, I am using the character’s appearance and voice, but the personality is my own. If I started to make videos of ideas of my own and try to monetizes these videos, would I run into a problem if I just put a copyright fair use statement?

    1. Hi Gin,

      It sounds like you’d be working with protected properties in terms of the character’s appearance and voice, and therefore might encounter problems with monetization.

      Best,
      Rob

  70. Greetings Rob,
    I have desperately searched the web for any clues that will help me with my predicament. So far, your article and helpful answers seem like my best shot at getting an accurate answer to my own question.
    You see, I would love to make a book series based off the setting of a video game. I wouldn’t use the characters, the plot, etc. I would identify my own characters and have my own stories that ties nothing to the game. Except, this game is also based off of a popular Disney movie. And there are some ‘scenes’ or places that I would love to use that have been incorporated into the game. I’ve tried researching copyright information regarding video games but I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. In other words, am I able to write a story based off of a video game’s setting or places? (I would change the names of these places by the way)
    Would I need to ask for a license or permission from the company that made the game or the movie? I could give more details if needed(such as the name of the movie and game). Thanks so much for your time and help.

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Tricky! Only given elements of a work can really be protected, not the concepts behind them. As an illustration, it would be easier to have a dark, brooding, Gothic hero who fights crime with gadgets named ‘Night-Bat’ than it would to have a completely distinct villain who dresses in orange and lives in Guatemala but calls himself ‘Batman.’ The ‘idea’ behind the character is fair game – we’re MEANT to absorb ideas – but the name and any trademarked logos, terms, designs, etc. are a discrete property that someone already made up and which you can’t borrow without their permission.

      In the spirit of this, it certainly sounds like you might be fine. If the name of the place is different, and it’s going to be depicted in a non-visual medium, and you stay away from any protected terms, I’d argue that you’re already starting to experiment with a setting deeply (deeply, deeply, deeply) inspired by the Disney property than actually set in it.

      That said, this is a game of degrees – if you depict something so visually distinct that it could only be that setting, or you add so many distinct details that it could only be that setting, you’re likely to run into trouble. For example, one would be fine depicting a school for witches and wizards – J.K. Rowling definitely doesn’t own that idea. Add moving staircases and you’re clearly taking inspiration, but should be fine, but then add the talking portraits and the sealed, secret chamber, and the common room by the kitchens, and eventually you’re painting a picture that at least grabs a lawyer’s attention.

      In short, it’s possible to do what you describe in a totally legal way. The above isn’t legal advice – I don’t have the insight into your work or the qualifications – so to know for sure, you’ll need to run it by a lawyer or find an editor who can assess this for you.

      Best,
      Rob

  71. I am starting work of fanfiction writing based on a popular sci-fi MMO Video game (And no it’s not WOW) Anyway in order to keep the stories relativity I have to maintain the story in the same Universe and timeline as the Game following the same lore I honestly want to write it as a Fan Fiction Animated screenplay that goes straight to DVD as such there may be profit involved (I believe if a man does work he deserves to be paid for it) but at the same time I don’t want to get entangled in a legal dispute with the game’s development company what would you suggest?

    1. Hi TROY,

      I’m afraid I can’t really suggest anything that I think would help you meet your goals. In the spirit of your belief that if a man does work, he deserves to be paid for it, the current law is that if you own a property, you get to decide who can and can’t use it. Releasing a DVD would be next to impossible without legal dispute, as the rights to who can create and release works related to this property will be very clear and iron clad.

      Best,
      Rob

    1. Hi Violet,

      Thanks for commenting. While it would be difficult to make money from this type of fan fiction, you should certainly be able to put it in front of readers.

      Best,
      Rob

  72. Michelle Hauger

    Hello, I started writing a story which is based on a game. In the story it has a few of the original characters as well as some characters which I had made up. This story which is based on a popular game and is told from a different point of view, so many of the things which are in the game aren’t in my story. The point of view in which the the story is told in is that of one of the antagonist’s victims, who actually manages to escape/survive. I really dont know how far i’ll go with it, but for some reason i just felt compelled write about this. There are many fan made videos out there based on this game. This is intended to be a fan fiction story and I was wondering what problems I may run into.

    1. Hi Rob,
      I’m hoping that you could ease my mind a bit. Loved this article by the way. Wished that I had found it sooner. My question is about my FanFiction story about the beloved T.V Show “The Wonder Years”. I wrote the storyline twenty years after the Final episode of the series. Added new characters to the original cast.I tried to locate the creators of the show to ask permission but was not successful. So instead I wrote my FanFiction to pay homage to the awesome creators of the show Neal Marlens and Carol Black. Also, the fans have been wanting a Reunion Show or a Reboot of the show for a few decades now. So I wrote one. It’s titled “The Wonder Years…Still Wondering”. Would really like to know if I will be getting in trouble or possibly sued for writing my FanFiction story. Thank you for your help. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

      1. Hi Writersblock,

        You’re unlikely to be sued merely for writing or sharing this project, but it’s probably never going to be possible to sell it in any way without encountering problems. While the individual creators may no longer be involved with this property, various companies will have a financial interest in retaining ownership. That said, it might be worth contacting those companies rather than the creators.

        Best,
        Rob

    2. Hi Michelle,

      I think the problems you can expect to run into are covered in the article. My advice would be to write this story with all the passion it invites and then to revisit it with the aim of altering or removing anything that gives you less than total ownership.

      Best,
      Rob

  73. What if I wanted to merge three worlds together from three or four different books/ shows? Like I want those different characters to meet and coexist together. Can I keep all their original names but with a whole story I wrote without copywriting or should I just change the names?

    1. Hi Kim,

      Those properties would still be protected. Changing protected elements like names is a good idea. That said, this type of fan fiction tends not to attract legal attention unless offered for sale.

      Best,
      Rob

  74. I just wrote a fan fiction story that has Freddy, Jason, and Ash Williams. Its a whole new story with existing and new characters I created from the movies and TV shows. Is there any issues you can see with this?

    1. Hi Michael,

      Unfortunately, yes; namely, the inclusion of Freddy, Jason, and Ash Williams. That said, it will probably depend what you want to do with your story. Offering your work for sale is generally where the problems begin.

      – Rob

  75. By the end of the day, companies just care about money.

    Growing from the nineties to now, I’ve seen all the up’s and downs in the media and personally, i think having competition from fans would do some good.

    Visuals alone are not enough to make me want to see or buy something. I live with a low bar of expectation, so the best a company has to do to get me invested is putting heart and effort, or at least showing they tried to.

    Ex: Everyone else hates it, but i personally enjoyed The Female crew to the ghostbusters remake. Go ahead and hate, but like i said… low expectations mean we wont feel major disappointments if it wasn’t what we wanted.

    As the saying goes, if you want a job done to your liking, you’re better off doing it yourself. C.E.O.’s and investors only care about the market margins, so in that field, its just “shut up and pay us so we can keep living well!”. I’m not saying all think like this, but the ones that do are usually the ones calling the shots.

    Fans are just expected to be the mindless rabble that blow their money and continue to do so. Fan-based creations help take away any frustration we feel towards that cycle. Yes it would be nice to make money for our hard work, but we know the risks.

    In the end, If big name companies still manage to make a profit to pay bills and keep food on the table. Then what are they really losing? It takes fan devotion and love to keep companies alive. Hence when you really look at it, has anyone ever heard a company going bankrupt or facing layoff trouble due to fanfics?

    Some companies have admitted that false brand or real brand product placement has actually caused an increase in their sales.

    I see it like the episode of the simpsons when Marge became the listen lady. Fans know what the public enjoys, and create more of what they want. so if companies lose their fanbase to a small time author or artist, it’s like Lovejoy with the saints. “What have you done to keep them?”

    Ex: Tossing out the Popeye movie for the Emoji movie?! Sony… Wasn’t there one voice in the back of your minds screaming “THIS IS A STUPID IDEA!”.

    Hence why as of 2019-the future, I’d rather put my trust and money towards indie developers. Yes, works could be a hit or miss, but like i said… i grew up in that era and it’s that logic that brought us some icons like Mario, Sonic, Spyro, Crash and many others we have come to love like real family.

    Those who put heart into their work brings stories to life. Some even admit their creations feel more like their sons or daughters, and its that reason why many have come to love a purple little dragon.

    Look at it too, if not for Ralph Bakshi daring to make an animated version of Lord of the rings, we wouldn’t have had a live-action take to it. Inspiration births more inspiration, if money were the biggest point to go for… companies would just make endless emoji movies. So that says some small part of us is wanting to try, maybe push more on that side.

    I go by this standpoint:

    1. Try to earn the budget back in the theater sales.

    2. Save what you make in the home sales. Movies, memorabilia, etc.

    3. Learn from what went wrong, build on those key points, dust yourself off and try again.

    We never learn to walk unless we get back up and keep at it.

    As for fans, the best we can do is:

    1. Lower our expectations. If you have your own mindset of how something should be, than you’d face less disappointment if you had done it yourself. We are all the same deep down, and we are all diverse and that’s what makes the world go round.

    2. Learn everyone has their own way. We are not born into this world for people to serve us nor were we born to serve others. Yes taking the lazy bratty route seems the easiest, but you also set yourself up for dependency.
    I should know because i was like that myself. I wanted things my way and would verbally attack anyone who didn’t see it my way.
    It took the love and discipline of my wife and doing things for myself that showed me i have strength to do and create. Look not at hard work of acceptance and understanding as thanklesss and pointless. Take it more by video game standards, how can the character that is you get stronger if you only depend on small chunks of shared points. Love, Education, and Discipline are our stats we need to build in life, and the only way to truely earn that Exp is by doing.

    3. Patience is a virtue because much like cooking, if you rush it… it will end up cold, hard, and bland, or like most cartoons have proven with power blasting the cooking time, it ends in disaster.
    Yes i suffer from boredom too, but i find ways to entertain myself.

    Ex: If i had to wait for the next book in a series to come out, i would actually look into other creations the author has done, or read other books and read multiple series until the due date. But my fan love never dwindled with time because there are always ways to entertain your mind.

    Another big case is a fan based story that’s based on a different outcome. If J.K. Rowling sees this, i’ll admit it… the only thing i didn’t care for was Harry’s Stand off with Voldomort, forgive if his name is spelled wrong, but in truth, reading the ending felt rushed and cheapened by the fact of… why emphasis Neville was born on the sam night if he only has a minor role of standing his ground. I watched a youtube clip of that scene, and that had more to it because of His snake getting killed, meaning that was his last shred of immortality. It’s that little bit that i sadly have to admit… i stepped out of the fanbase. The relationships i support you on, you did those just fine. A relationship doesn’t need to be cheesy, some people end up finding a life partner who is practicle and realistic. So i’d say Harry/Ginny + Ron/Hermione work.

    All that long windedness aside, I honostly wish you’d be a bit more open. I get the need to protect your work from adult based Fictions, but let’s face it… History itself has had more sick minded individuals then what a fan could birth in their imagination. But even you had to have thoughts in your story of… what if Harry had given in and became The Dark masters vessel? Imagine the outcome of what could’ve been from that.

    I’ve read the in’s and outs of copyright and fan’s rights, and personally i stand by these truths on my end.

    1: Fans can inspire other fans to stay invested in a fandom. Ex: Activision has made me come to be annoyed with any future Crash and Spyro incarnations… OMG! Grab your torches and pitchforks! I want to be honest and if you don’t like it, we don’t have to be friends. i can’t change your mind nor do i have the right too. All of this is… As Phantomstrider on youtube puts it, Just my personal opinion.

    However, that being said… instead of standing there moaning and crying about it all. I just choose to go my own path, and if fans choose to support my endeavors, that is of their own decision. Case in point,

    Disney had bugs life. Dreamworks had Ants.

    At the end of the day, it comes to my decision on who did a better job and honestly… I love both movies. Maybe ants just a bit more for the story, but i’ll still invest time and money for bugs life because it’s my freedom to.

    That’s why true piracy is not the person who makes an animation or game based to a beloved franchise. Because by the end of it, they still put in the work to make something original to go along with it and actually invest their own money to make it so.

    A bootlegger is a true pirate, even in the name. Those are the ticket scalpers who will take an original item and bump up the price to sell to the desperate, or the ones who sneak into movie theaters with mini cameras just so they can make their own to sell to the public.

    But this is just my opnion, i don’t expect it to change anything. These are just my views and opinions.

    Good day to anyone who reads this and keep on creating.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Shadowolf. I agree that there’s a huge division in logic between the business of who owns what and the artistic relevance of what comes ‘next’ for any given story. It doesn’t surprise me that fan fiction so often actually helps out the official version – when I consume media, I don’t try a little of what I like and then ignore everything else, I get more and more into something the more good stuff comes out of it.

      Best wishes,
      Rob

  76. Mr Wood

    Thank you for this article. I have read through all the comments so I apologize in advance if I missed where you answered these questions. I have finished my first book in what will become a three volume historical fiction chronicling the human condition. I plan on publishing for profit once the second is finished and the third is in the hopper. Thank you for that bit of wisdom by the by. Not publishing just as a one off.

    There are 4 times in the first book where I used a line from a song as background to start or shift a scene. Two are popular well known, two are local musicians. I credit the bands in the dialogue or narration. Will I be overstepping?

    The second question is I have a character who does impersonations. Twice he says a recognizable line from a popular movie. Example “Speak M***** ****** ” He says in his best (actors name) voice. If I self publish on Amazon and run into trouble can I not just change the offending lines if it comes up? The book is over 80 000 words, All original plot, characters, dialogue. The questionable items amount to maybe 100 words in total between all 6 items. I appreciate your input and thank you for providing such a valuable site.

    Thanks again

    Regards Van

    1. Hi Van,

      The answers you’re looking for are dealt with in How To Reference Pop Culture In Your Fiction, but the short version is that authors are generally free to reference real art in their work so long as they’re not presenting it as their own and they’re reasonable in doing so (see ‘fair use’ in the article). Obviously, I can’t give you specific legal advice about your project, but it sounds like you don’t have anything to worry about.

      Best,
      Rob

  77. Hi, really great article
    Here’s my problem. My fan-fic is a crossover of the DC and Marvel comic universes.
    It mainly focuses on an original character of my own making and him trying to survive in an original story within this world. However interactions with already made characters is a given.
    Is this a major issue? Can I run with this story (also if I can, do you think it could be sold or should be free)

    1. Hi Drake,

      Sadly, you can expect a lot of problems if you try and sell this work, as comics are particularly packed with protected details (lots of creators have contributed to their worlds over time, meaning a lot of characters are regarded as separate properties.) Marvel and DC can’t even agree to publish their own crossover events, let alone to give permission for fan fiction. Distributing your work for free puts you in the same nebulous position as with other properties – it doesn’t seem like mammoth companies have much interest in stopping you, but that’s not because of any solid protections that would help you out if they changed their minds.

      Happily, Marvel and DC are VERY easy to parody, since most readers interested in superhero stories know the major players, so you may only have to change some specific details to have something you can publish with no worries. See something like Garth Ennis’ ‘The Boys’ for a publication that makes very clear reference to Marvel and DC characters without stepping over the line into legal troubles.

      Best,
      Rob

  78. Great article, I have a question: if I adapted a novel such as “around the world in 80 days” or the “the tripods trilogy” as a fan made manga without intending to make money of it, will that get me in a copyright trouble?

    1. Hi Hamid,

      I believe ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ is now in the public domain, meaning you can do anything you like with it, including using the writing word for word, and sell it as your own (though you should, of course, check on this to your own satisfaction). The ‘Tripods trilogy’ I’m not as familiar with, but it looks like it’s not in the public domain yet, so you’d face the problems described in the article if you tried to make any money off your adaptation. I’m afraid the law is very unclear around distributing such work for free – the current state of affairs is generally that as long as it’s for free and doesn’t make too much noise, larger companies will overlook it, but then every so often someone takes notice and can cause problems for fan-fic writers.

      Best,
      Rob

    1. Hi Christian,

      Creative commons is more of a system than a single state, allowing authors to waive certain rights for the benefit of other creators. Because of this, the answer depends entirely on which rights a given author has decided to waive – some will allow you to write and sell fan-fic under certain conditions, some are happy for you to do anything you want, and some want considerations like credit for the initial idea.

      Best,
      Rob

  79. I’m hoping you can still answer a question of mine, given that your article is several years old. I apologize for not continuing to scroll through to see if this was answered already. My question is about a story that is not technically fanfiction but about someone writing it, and I do want to publish it as a novel. The story does use copyrighted characters in the sense that the author is mad at how a story ends, rewrites the ending (in which case there will be a scene here and there that re-envision the scenes but usually ends up with those characters talking to her about what she’s doing or doing something opposite of what she’s wanting to write, interrupting the scenes she’s writing in her head. It can’t be called a parody, though. I could forego names and trademarks for a generic setting, but the point of it is to kind of explore the fan worlds that get vitriolic and obsessive by showing the main character to have fallen into that mindset. I am leaning in the direction of just pulling some familiar elements so that it can represent more than one fanbase, but I really wanted to just check the boundaries of writing a novel that doesn’t actually steal copyrighted images to recreate the story for profit but to just talk about it from a writing perspective in our world and explore how people try to re-imagine it. Thank you for any information you can provide.

    1. Hi Amy,

      It sounds like, great idea though it is, you’d still be using protected property that might get you in trouble. Put simply, Disney don’t want Mickey Mouse appearing in anyone else’s humorous cartoons, but they also don’t want him appearing in satirical works that COMMENT on humorous cartoons, and they’re covered for both. Since they own the character, they get to decide how he’s used, so it’s more than an issue of direct competition. Basically, if you want to borrow my car, it doesn’t matter if it’s to go shopping or for a street race, you still need my permission.

      There’s an argument that, if you’re addressing the franchise itself, you could be protected by what’s fair use under criticism, but that’d be a shaky argument since it isn’t really the focus of your criticism.

      That said, you can get VERY close to recognizable properties without breaking any rules. I’d suggest checking out Mike Carey’s ‘The Unwritten’, which is very clear in how it addresses Harry Potter without breaking any rules.

      Best,
      Rob

  80. Hello, I was curious if you could answer my question as I know this a few years old article, and it was interesting, however it didn’t quite seem to answer what i was looking for. I am on Fanfiction.net, and love the site, but as of recently am unhappy with how some members go about with the rules and guidelines of the site with regards to writing fanfiction. Now I have brought this subject up in many emails to the admins, but haven’t gotten no response, I guess what I was looking for was there anything that could be done, as members are acting abrasively, immaturly, harassing at times…and the admins seem to not mind this (and I have been with FFN since 2011, i love this site too much to see it go down like this) is there anything that could be done that you know of? (Forgive the long question as well and thank you for any help you can offer)

    1. Hi Maddy,

      I’m afraid that site moderation really begins and ends with the official moderators of a given site. The below article will help if the bad behavior extends to theft of work, but otherwise I’d suggest doing what you can to persuade the moderators of your position, ideally both succinctly and with a clear idea of the steps you’d like them to take.

      What To Do If A Website Has Stolen Your Work

      One thing that can work is raising a stink on social media. Since such criticisms are public, groups tend to take them more seriously than internal complaints, so making your concerns plain where potential new users can see them (and thus where it might actually impact the mods through their own chain of command) may be a way to get your voice heard.

      Of course, if online behavior is criminal in nature – e.g. threats – then the police should be contacted directly.

      Best,
      Rob

  81. My 11 year old son and his two best friends are huge fans of the Percy Jackson/Jason Grace books. They have written their own story making themselves the heroes. But in the telling of the story they reference locations and characters from Rick Riordan’s books. While I am certain that this book should not be published in order to sell because it would be a copyright infringement, I would love to print a copy for him and his friends as a keepsake. Do you know of any companies that would allow me to do this? Thank you!

  82. I am looking to write a fan/fic story prequel to Casablanca, focused on Rick’s life before Ilsa. I know the movie itself is still under copyright so I’m concerned about writing about Rick. I’ve tried doing a Google search to see if Rick Blaine is public domain but I’m having issues. Any thoughts?

  83. How would I go about publishing a fanfiction using characters that are real life people? I write fanfiction about rock bands and I was wondering if the same rules would apply. I would of course state that it’s only a work of fiction and that it’s not real and there wouldn’t be anything disrespectful to the band members so those things shouldn’t cause an issue hopefully. I did enjoy the article by the way! Any help would be appreciated.

  84. Hello Mr. Robert. I am looking forward to write my first ever book which would be a fan fiction of 13 Reasons Why. Is there any chance that I can use the exact same characters and settings and write an ‘alternate reality’ with a different outcome. Difference being the series of events that changed the outcome and some new characters related to the original ones who obviously play a significant role in the ‘alternate outcome’.
    Not looking for any money from it. What are my options?

    Thank you.

  85. Is there a definitive source to question the copyright status of a particular character or story? I am seeking info regarding Neil R Jones (died in 1988) and his 24 stories on the Professor Jameson character. Interested in copyright status if the stories and the character. Also Syracuse University was bequeathed his papers when he passed and they have 6 more unpublished stories. Very interested in copyright status of these. I have received dozens if contradicting opinions from those in the pulp community. The laws seem vague in areas. Is copyright automatically generated, or is there a department where I might seem these specific answers?

  86. Hi Rob,

    I’ve been a fanfiction writer for several years now, and I found your article very informative and helpful. Fanfiction is where I started to nurture and refine my talent for writing stories, and while some of my earlier works certainly gained mixed reviews, publishing my fandom stories has encouraged me to become a better, more prolific writer. That being said, I have always been careful to avoid plagiarism in my fanfiction works by including disclaimers stating clearly that all recognizable characters, locations, or events are the sole property of their owners. Also, within that same disclaimer, I’ve stated that I make zero money or profit off the story, and I’m only publishing the story for fun or as a result of my love and appreciation for the series. In addition to writing fanfiction, I’ve branched out and have been writing original stories for several years as well.

    As a fanfic author, I have always strived–even prided myself–on my ability to remain true to the characters’ personalities and the author’s created world. I have never, to my knowledge at least, encountered problems with copyright infringement; however, after reading this article, I am now worried that my determination to stay true to the events and characters of the story as much as possible may open me to legal problems in the future, especially if I start publishing my original stories as an author (not fan fiction stories).

    I publish my non-profit fan fiction stories on Fanfiction.net and, like many of the authors on that site, I use disclaimers to give the original authors and creators credit. I mainly write fanfictions for Harry Potter, Naruto, and Criminal Minds, but I have also written stories for series such as Lie to Me and Hell Girl, and I plan to publish more fan fiction based on the Star Wars: Rebels series. By staying as close to the original work as possible, but including original characters (OCs) in the stories from time to time, have I been unintentionally committing copyright infringement?

  87. Hey Bob,
    Thanks for the information. I was just wondering if it would be safe if I write a Percy Jackson fanfiction on fanfiction.net.
    Thanks,
    Henry Rodriguez

  88. I have a question about charging for fan fiction. I’m thinking of opening up commissions for fan fiction of my favorite anime. I think the works would be considered transformative because they will involve sexual content that isn’t in the original at all. I have a very niche audience with specific stuff that isn’t anywhere in the original. Would this be considered legal? I can give more details if you need them.

  89. Hello Sir,
    I actually want to create K-Pop X Reader ffs on Youtube based on some novels I like. Therefore, the characters are mainly K-Pop idols so there is no issue for names . There are some novels from which I would like to include whole storyline with some small variations such as personalities, and some set-ups like countries etc . Moreover, there would not be anything disrespectful against real life characters(K POP IDOLS). So, I was just wondering if it would be safe or not…Please provide your opinion about it.
    Thank you so much Sir

  90. Fantastic article. I’m always so grateful when someone takes the time to help authors not do something that would get them into legal trouble.
    I’m wondering if you could help confirm one for me. I’m googling to see if Mulan is in the public domain. I’m writing a fanfic that is based on the story: so it will have the fight with the Huns, the matchmaker (which was the norm in ancient China), and a firefly to replace both Mushu and the cricket. Would this be okay?
    Mulan will not be marrying the army general, nor will she be returning home for at least twelve years, which is more accurate towards the actual tale of Mulan.
    I have included original characters as well. I have written another book that is now published and hope to reuse the Emperor in that book as the Emperor in Mulan, and the matchmaker is one of the beloved servant girls from my original book.
    Do you think that I will be able to self publish this book?

  91. If I write a fanfic with original characters and settings, but still have some same terms and themes, and do not publish it, is it legal?

  92. The author of a favorite series of mine died before she could write the last book and left so many loose ends. Is it legal for me to publish the final book that I wrote for the rest of the fans?

  93. so i recently started writing a book based off of a youtube series. the book has the same names and personalities and sometimes refrences to the series, but its a completely different timeline. i assumed i needed the authors permission, but i just wanted to familiarize myself with the rules to see if ther’es any way around it. in one of their video’s they acknowledged that they love fan-fiction and fan-art, so i’m pretty sure that as long as i could get in touch with them i should be fine, but still.

  94. Hi Rob

    I was wondering what problems I might run into from here, as I wanted to create an AU/fanfiction comic based on a video game. It does stick to some of the main story of the game at first, but as it goes on it starts a whole new story. It mainly focuses on one of the canon characters of the game, though there is a couple of original characters that I added to it. (The looks of some of the canon characters has been changed, a few changed more visibly than others, since the story is based on a dream I had, so I wanted to make them look accurate to the dream) I was considering putting it on a webcomic platform like Webtoon or Tapas when I started creating it, but I don’t want to run into any possible legal issues, especially as I’m still living with my parents. Do you know if I would get into trouble by posting the comic somewhere? Should I just keep it to myself? What do you think?

  95. Hey
    Thank for the help!

    I want to write some fanfiction, but I don’t know if it is legal. Because is an erotic fanfiction about marvel characters or actors.

    The app I’m thinking of uploading my stories on is tumblr, and I can’t make money off it.
    The story is spicy and sexual.

    The ones I want to write about:
    Characters: Captain America, Bucky, Loki and Druig.
    Actors: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, and Barry Keoghan.

    Can I write erotic fan fiction about the marvel character or actor? Or are there some characters or actors I should avoid?

  96. Hey
    Thank for the help

    I want to write some fanfiction, but I don’t know if it is legal. Because is an erotic fanfiction about marvel characters or actors.

    The app I’m thinking of uploading my stories on is tumblr, and I can’t make money off it.
    The story is spicy and sexual.

    The ones I want to write about:
    Characters: Captain America, Bucky, Loki and Druig.
    Actors: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, and Barry Keoghan.

    Can I write erotic fan fiction about the marvel character or actor? Or are there some characters or actors I should avoid?

  97. Thanks for your post, if you have sometime maybe you can advise of the following dynamics for a short fan fiction story I am hoping to publish for free, on a website like reddit (etc).

    1. 20th Century Fox, deleted scene (<2 minuets long).
    2. All dialog preserved.
    3. New dialog added.
    4. New extended scene, with additional character interactions.
    5. Two existing characters are also newly incorporated, in extended scene. (Scene: 2 characters, short: 4 characters).
    6. The dialog is: abstract duality, to convey a secret concept. By preserving the dialog, and adding additional subtext, I intent to make (more) accessible this hidden truth.

    I believe this to be transformative & educational (not via direct critique) By exploring through artistic endeavour a new interpretation of the scene, to revel the secret.

    7.A) This deleted scene has also be incorporated in the official novelisation of the film.
    7.B) It does not preserve the scene as filmed, and fails to render the all dialog, and eliminates in totality; the hidden secret.
    7.C) Or more realistically it greatly obfuscates the secret to prevent its truth from coming out.

    I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks in advance.

  98. Your commentary on the ins and outs of fanfiction has been very interesting and informative. Some of the discussion touches upon the questions of most interest to me, but not precisely. So, I feel I ought to specifically state the question I really want to find out about.

    I have been doing both original writing and fanfiction for years. I currently have past and current original works in print, and also have fanfiction posted on more than one posting board. My usual FF subjects are favorite heroes formerly featured in now-defunct titles. Oftentimes my stories seek to satisfactorily “finish” stories that were never finished before cancellation came to the characters.

    It is good that we have fanfiction sites, but I feel that the readers of such sites represent a small cadre. The idea of reaching new readers appeals to me, I mean new readers who might not yet know of these “lost” characters. To reach some of these new readers, I have fancied the idea of having some of my FF stories printed as paperbacks that I would give away charge-free. But instead of simply giving them to friends and relatives, I’d like to donate free copies to public libraries that agree agree to place such books on their shelves for years of circulation. What do you see as the liability risk in doing such a thing?

    A corollary question is, would it be inadvisable for one to post fanfiction books as free downloadable ebooks?

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