It probably depends on if your story takes place in that exact universe or one that tends to resemble it. Space Balls is inspired by Star Wars, but it doesn't actually take place on Tattooine, there is no Emporer Palpatine, and of course no Death Star.
If it had used those places and characters it would have been a fan fiction. And Brooks would owe Lucas a lot of money.
So basically all I need to do is change the names I know are theirs and I can publish my fan fiction as an independent story, inspired by whatever it was?
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I'm not copying. I wrote a story that indeed was inspired by a computer game and is going on in that world. But the story I created is completely mine and most of the characters as well. I can put this story into my own world and replace the names I know are theirs.
And I intend to put "Inspired by..." so I give them the credit.
The point is the thing that started as a fan fic became something more. And I would like to publish it someday.
"But the story I created is completely mine and most of the characters as well."
The word "mostly" here is cause for concern. If they're not all yours, I would tread carefully. Keep in mind that archetypes are not stolen characters. A wise sagely wizard mentor need not be copied from Gandalf, for instance.
The characters that are not mine I can easily replace. So far I have only mentioned them. Only one character I have used (and expanded tremendously). If I change the name, all that is really left is the character's social situation which I doubt that they have a copyright on.
If I publish such a work in a country not USA and the work I was inspired by is an American work, which copyright laws do I need to be careful with here?
Why don't I just e-mail these people and ask them for permission?
Perhaps I should be more specific here and give a clearer picture what I mean.
[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited March 02, 2009).]
I don't know. What MartinV is talking about is something I've heard lots of professional writers refer to as "filing off the identification number" and it's not necessarily a problem.
If the characters and story are yours, and you remove anything that could be considered someone else's, then it's your story.
I would be willing to bet that there are very few stories out there that aren't "inspired by" some story or another, whether it's a newspaper story or a tv episode or a fairy tale or something you overheard while riding to work on the underground or whatever.
If you get an idea from something that's copyrighted, you're fine. Ideas can not be copyrighted.
Isn't that sort of what they decided when the authors (or two of them) of Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Dan Brown over The Da Vinci Code? They lost. They couldn't copyright the idea.
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I disagree, rich. The story (situation, plot, characters) is completely mine and can survive in a world that is not the original one. I can take it out and put it in a world I created for some other story. I will have to modify it somewhat but it can be done.
The point of this discussion is simply that I would like to get the credit for my own effort. Besides, it's not like I'm going to become a millionaire with this story. I'll be very lucky if I get any profit out of it at all.
I'd say that just because Tolkien wrote a book about a quest over possession and dispossession of a magical object, that that would exclude anybody else from doing the same. (Three-fourths of all fantasy novels published since the sixties wouldn't have been published if that were true.)
I believe the written works of Robert E. Howard have lapsed into public domain, and one is free to reprint what one chooses. A number of books have appeared that plainly take advantage of this. (There are other complications, but that's the basic point.) But the trademarks that are Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and the settings they inhabit, all that may still be under copyright---I don't know---which would prevent anyone from writing new stories featuring them.
I'm inclined to go with what Kathleen said---file off the serial numbers, mention no names or places, and, chances are, nobody would notice, and if they do you could dismiss it as an "in joke" rather than "ripoff."
MartinV said, "The characters that are not mine I can easily replace. So far I have only mentioned them. Only one character I have used (and expanded tremendously). If I change the name, all that is really left is the character's social situation which I doubt that they have a copyright on."
Then replace them and you don't have to worry about copyright law. If anyone asks, you can say "homage". But you're still treading on uncertain ground because you say you can easily replace the copyrighted characters with ones of your own. I don't understand how you can do this if they are "characters". Just changing the name doesn't accomplish a whole lot. I'm also not sure what you mean by "social situation".
Bottomline: You can be inspired by a story and its characters, but once you start using those characters in your own fiction then you're edging towards violating copyright.
Fan fiction is copyright violation. Some authors don't care about fan fiction, some do. I just would err on the side of caution.
rich, I'm not trying to argue here. I just really want to see this story published and since I'm deviating significantly from the in-game storyline, I believe I can publish it as my own work. The only reason I'm asking this is because I really don't want to rip the story out of the setting it grew in. But if that is the only way for it to be published, I can change it in a way that is not fan fiction anymore - I take out that which the in-game storyline has contributed.
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"only reason I'm asking this is because I really don't want to rip the story out of the setting it grew in."
I think establishing your own setting would be your best bet. Fanfic is very hard to publish unless the owner solicits you for it (which they'd only do if you were already well-known). You could always ask permission, but I'm guessing they would say no. And silence, in this case, also means no.