Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I use someone else's characters in my book?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm writing a book in which my MCs end up in a world in which characters from classic literature appear from time to time - think Long John Silver, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Owl and the Pussycat etc.  - and I was wondering if that's going to cause me any copyright issues.  I feel like the texts I've drawn from are all old enough that they're probably public domain, but wanted to check if there was any reason not to include these characters.  Do you know?

Yours truly,


Dear Peopled,

That is a good question!

But no, you're fine to use these characters as long as you don't use any of the language the original author used to tell the story.  That would be plagiarism!  But you can write whatever you want about these existing characters as long as you do so in your own words.  And from the sounds of it, you're placing them in a very different world to the ones they existed in originally, so there should be no problem.

That said, if I were you, I'd stick to characters from works published prior to 1923 if possible. Those books are now all in the public domain whereas a character from a book written more recently - Harry Potter for example -  might cause you a few more headaches. 

If you really need to use a character from something recent, the best way to go about it would be to get the author's permission, to well and truly cover yourself.  If it's possible...

Hopefully that helps!

X O'Abby

1 comment:

Steven Arellano Rose Jr. said...

That's a really good point, O'Abby! I would just add that, to be even more safe, to double check to make sure there is no copyright on these older works. There are certain, though more rare, instances where a work's copyright has been renewed by an heir or organisation through the succeeding years. At least that's my understanding. I'm not a copyright expert or agent so I can't be sure. I'm mostly going by my own experience with researching works for copyright.