Flexibility among copyright holders? No way.

When does a reference to something from another work stop being an attempt to raise a wry smile and become plagiarism or infringe copyright?

Three examples I wanted in YLO:

  • a drug called semuta, as in Frank Herbert’s Dune
  • a minor character’s name taken from a John Wyndham short story
  • mere hints that a long-gone society might perhaps have been the one from the Handmaid’s Tale

There’s no attempt to exploit the original, we’re talking single words and names (not chunks of text), it’s not fan fiction (not even in the same “universe”) and in no way denigrating the original. Just perhaps making aficionados grin.

At least I had the smarts to check whether these minuscule, innocent homage-style references were okay. Three strikes and out: blunt and unequivocal refusals from Brian Herbert, the agents representing the estate of John Wyndham and Margaret Atwood’s publisher.

3 thoughts on “Flexibility among copyright holders? No way.

  1. Frank Herbert is long gone, but his son Brian is also a well-known author and now writes things in the same “universe”. I contacted him and got a quick and unequivocal response: appreciate me asking, but nope, can’t give permission, change it.


  2. Not having a good day. Tracked down an agent representing the estate of John Wyndham: ooh, that particular short story was filmed under a different title in the 70s, but they kept the character names. I’ll check, but I’m afraid you might need permission from the studio. Good luck with that one…


  3. Strike three (via Margaret Atwood’s translator here in the Netherlands, a friend of a friend, who knows her reasonably well): she’s very approachable and wouldn’t have any problem with it. Unless you’re, like, writing a sequel in the same “universe”. But without a say-so from the author, her *publishers* might get snotty about it. And if I’m zapping the others…

    A shame. Building in those teeny direct nods of acknowledgement to other works you’ve enjoyed, even if it’s only to make readers grin and to show you know your genre, is clearly a risky no-go area. More edits 😦


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