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I'd like to write a fiction series based on the son of a character from another novel. There were no children in the original story published in 1986, and it seems the author has retired from writing--to my great regret. While the son is an entirely new character, this concept would necessary entail references to the original main character as well mention of some others in that story, and also use of some of the tools used in the original.

  • I am pretty sure that I have seen this done with success a few times (don't recall where), but only when the connection was quite tangential. The copyright law question is "was your story a derivative work of original author's?" Answering this (as elaborated by precedent) depends on the facts. Parodies are O.K., slavish fan fiction is not. How thin a connection is O.K. depends. Minimal mention of another work or a minimal link to it might not be infringing, if your story stands on it own. But, even modest roles in your story for the original characters, fictional world or plot would infringe. – ohwilleke Dec 2 '16 at 19:13
  • Also, another big category of protected borrowing is the Scenes a faire doctrine which provides that "certain elements of a creative work are held to be not protected when they are mandated by or customary to the genre." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sc%C3%A8nes_%C3%A0_faire – ohwilleke Dec 2 '16 at 19:19
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That'll be breach of copyright.

would necessarilly entail references to the original main character as well mention of some others in that story, and also use of some of the tools used in the original.

You are using the original author's creative work, and you can't do that without a license.

Sorry, no authoritative reference for that but I am confident of its accuracy in England and Wales. Other jurisdictions might have other rules, but I would be slightly surprised.

  • Do you have an authoritative source for this answer? Or are you an attorney? – user3270 Aug 4 '16 at 15:44
  • @user3270 : No and no :-) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Aug 4 '16 at 15:45
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    law.stackexchange.com/a/11093/3851 references there about copyright in characters and fictional worlds – user3851 Aug 4 '16 at 15:56
  • Thank you. You confirmed my doubts. I will see if I can contact the author via the publisher. – John Boyd Aug 4 '16 at 21:48
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    No copyright law question has such a definitive and unequivocal answer (something true of most, but not quite all, interesting legal questions). Derivative work cases, in particular, are highly fact specific and it is almost always possible for a judge who wishes to do so to distinguish prior cases when applying the law to a particular derivative works case. A license would be safer, and you might get generous terms if you have a credible case that you could legally publish without one, but when push comes to shove it would be a rolling the dice question and we can only guess the odds. – ohwilleke Dec 2 '16 at 19:24

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