Can I Mention Old Characters In My Fiction If The Original Copyright Has Expired?

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Hello Angela,

First, please let me congratulate you on what I consider to be the very best and most user-friendly writers’ information site online at the moment. The scope of your articles, advice, markets and lists is amazing and always relevant to so many of the problems faced by new writers in our wonderful new digital age. Your weekly e-mails are indeed a new writer’s lifeline.

Thank you.

I am writing this e-mail query as a follow-up to your excellent recent article on the inclusion of fictional characters in a story.

My query is to ask if the restrictions you quoted in your article would also apply to mentioning or quoting characters from older fiction, which is now in the public domain, e.g. from writers such as Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and other similarly antiquated sources?

Any information you can give on this matter would be most sincerely appreciated.

Many thanks again,

George (new writer)

I am NOT an attorney so I can’t provide you with legal advice. Please refer all questions to your attorney.

That said – many firms republish old writing from others. If you use one of these firms’ newer versions of a manuscript, you could be violating their copyright. They can find out you used their material because almost all of them make minor editing and other changes to the original material. You would need to find a copy of the original manuscript, and work with that.

And, copyright law can be confusing. Just because something is a specific number of years old doesn’t mean the copyright has been completely exhausted. Some are renewed by the heirs of the original copyright owners.

So, again, you should ask your attorney for advice on your specific needs.

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