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Like if I want to write a book series about Harry Potter character Rita Skeeter's life, may I do it? I always hear that this isn't allowed. But as far as I know some people have written a book about what happened after Potter won the war. And the series "män som hatar kvinnor" has a fourth book called "Det som inte dödar oss".

So is it allowed to write a book (and make money with it), if you base the plot and/or the characters on something written in another book?

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    Can you provide any reference or examples of published "fan fiction" like those you claim exist for Harry Potter?
    – feetwet
    Oct 12, 2015 at 18:45
  • You can, of course, just write a book about a different journalist in a different magical world. You would have to change the names and enough of the details of the background that it isn’t obviously based on the Harry Potter books.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 10 at 13:34
  • Ask Philip Jose Farmer. "The real log of Phileas Fogg" describes what really happened in 80 days around the world (I mean who would seriously believe that this guy wouldn't know what happens when you cross the dateline?) I think Tarzan is also in one of his books.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 12 at 0:52
  • @gnasher729 But those works came out of copyright in the US 56 years after publication, before Farmer used those characters. So it’s not relevant to discussion of fiction based on works that are still in copyright.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 13 at 15:56

2 Answers 2

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Presumably you are referring to works commonly called "fan fiction." Under copyright law these might be considered "derivative works" and therefore subject to the rights of the copyright owner. However, they might also qualify for exemption from copyright enforcement under "fair use."

It appears that the legality of fan fiction is not settled law, and the outcome of legal challenges have turned on facts specific to each case. Decent background on the question is summarized on wikipedia.

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  • Fanfic being valid fair use would only apply to non-commercial fanfic, right? Oct 13, 2015 at 3:59
  • @curiousdannii - no, there are other allowances for fair use like "parody" and "criticism" that can be fully commercial/for-profit.
    – feetwet
    Oct 13, 2015 at 13:01
  • But those aren't fanfic. I was asking whether commercial fanfic was possible, not other kinds of commercial fair use which I know can be legal. Oct 13, 2015 at 13:05
  • @curiousdannii - Right, I guess if you assume that fanfic is "serious" and "adoring" those wouldn't apply. (But, for example, I was thinking of Twilight and having trouble imagining anything based on it that couldn't be characterized as "parody" even if not intended by the fanfic author. E.g., what if the original work is self-parody?)
    – feetwet
    Oct 13, 2015 at 13:32
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    @TomAu, the situation with Wicked is a bit different, because the original 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum entered the public domain in the '50s.
    – dwoz
    Oct 13, 2015 at 14:33
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A recent case explored a new book written by Fredrik Colting a Swedish writer, which used the name and characterization of Holden Caulfield, the main character of Catcher In The Rye. The book was ruled to be derivative and the court issued an injunction preventing it from being marketed or sold in the USA. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/books/02salinger.html?_r=0

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