Using Character Names from Someone Else’s Story

A writer recently asked:

I purchased your Storyweaver, because I’ve had many stories rumbling around in my head for years. Several of them are adaptations of old tv dramas and old movies.

My stories are totally different from the originals, but use the same characters names.

I guess my main question is: am I legally allowed to write these stories?

I’m guessing there must be some sort of rights acquired in order to do so. If that’s the case, I’ll have to forget it. I can’t afford the possible hundreds of thousands it would cost to acquire rights to characters names… and without these characters, my stories wouldn’t be the same.

Thank you for any help you can possibly provide.

Respectfully yours,

SV

My reply:

Hi, SV

While a character name cannot be copyrighted, it can be trademarked. And, in copyright cases, character names can be taken into consideration as part of an overall argument of infringement.

For example, there is no doubt you cannot get away with calling a character Luke Skywalker, even if you were telling a story about an orange and an apple, and Luke was the apple.

At the other end of the scale, you couldn’t get away with publishing a story about a young farm boy in a galaxy far far away whose father turns out to be the villain, and both of whom use a paranormal power (know as the PP) to move objects and control minds no matter what you called them, even Fred and Ethyl.

And in the middle are character names such as Joe Smith, which don’t really ring a bell with most people as belonging uniquely to some previously published work. Those kinds of names can be used without concern, even if they have been previously published in some obscure fiction.

In the end, it is up to you to determine if the character names are so identifiable that using them would violate copyright or intellectual property rights, and if you run into trouble, then it is up to the courts.

Hope this helps.

Melanie

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