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I have an idea for a book where several characters acquire elemental powers after dying and being resurrected; their powers all reflect the manner in which they died.

One of the characters acquires water-based powers, and eventually his younger brother acquires ice-based powers. Now, I know there have to be plenty of Caucasian, male fictional characters that possess iced-based powers (e.g. Iceman from the X-Men).

If I do this, will that be considered copyright infringement? I'm just constantly trying to make my characters as original as possible, but I have no idea where these copyright boundaries lie.

  • If you are afraid that your character will look too similar to a copyrighted one, make sure you search other characters with similar powers. That way your own character will be more of a mix than a clone. – bilbo_pingouin Jun 2 '15 at 8:39
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I recommend reading this blog post by Larry Correia:

http://monsterhunternation.com/2013/04/29/ask-correia-13-ripping-off-ideas/

As to your copyright question, if you're not blatantly taking characters from copyrighted works and using them in your own (as in fan fiction, or by copying them exactly except changing their names) don't worry about it. You've come up with characters that may be superficially similar to copyrighted characters in some respects, but that is not plagiarism and it's more or less inevitable in a world where millions of stories have been written and told.

This is another article, outlining what copyright law covers in the first half:

http://www.marklitwak.com/protecting-your-stories.html

What it boils down to is story concepts and ideas are not covered by copyright law. Excerpt:

A copyright does not protect story ideas, concepts or themes. Such elements are not protected whether they are in a writer’s head, written down on paper, or published. Ideas are as free as the air. Ten authors can write a story about a doomed romance between lovers from different backgrounds. This could be Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story, or another variation on the theme. Likewise, multiple authors can write biographies about George Washington. Each is free to tell the story of George Washington’s life in the writer’s own words. Each can borrow facts and historical incidents mentioned by prior authors.

What copyright law protects is the “expression of the author.” This is the particular manner in which the writer tells the story, his approach to the material, his voice. In other words, what is protected is the embellishment on the idea, not the idea itself.

The idea of a character being able to control water is too generic to be copyright-able. And, it's been used in probably thousands of stories. So don't worry about it.

The story ideas you've mentioned so far sound pretty cool, by the way.

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Just because your character has similar powers doesn't make him or her the same as another fictional character. In fact, you should try to make your character unique. If you do that you don't have to worry about copyright.

As far as I understand, and I am not a lawyer, if you use a different name and alter the powers, you should just get on with writing and not worry about copying someone else.

  • Alter the powers how? You mean like include immunity to the lowest of temperatures, ice generation (i.e. forming ice balls to hurl at people or a bat made of ice, etc...)? – Nicole B. Jun 1 '15 at 23:06
  • Exactly. You could also include time limits so, say, the power only lasts for thirty seconds at a time. – S. Mitchell Jun 2 '15 at 15:48
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Maybe the problem is, that as soon as you need to seriously ask whether your character is too similar to another, then in your head it probably already is.

Other people can give reasons why it isn't similar, but if you are asking the question then you already believe it to be true, and as a result of that the other characters are going to unconsciously seep into yours.

Think of a way to make the character yours, maybe think about if you had that power how would you wield it. You don't need to change the character per se, you just need to adjust your understanding of who the character is

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Basically, an idea can't be copyrighted, only the expression of an idea.

There are several "knockoffs" of the game Monopoly. The basic idea is the same, except that they have different street names, rental amounts, color codes, and "rulebooks."

So you can have characters that are "similar" to others; just don't describe them in the same way as other people.

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It's not. "Caucasian male with ice powers" is a very loose description, and you can flesh out your character more to make him unique. Just because he shares some similarities does not constitute copyright infringement. Take Deadpool, who obviously shares some glaring similarities with the comic book character Deathstroke, but he has his own personality and to some extent abilities and thus is his own unique character.

In fact, your origin story sounds quite unique. That's a step towards your character's uniqueness for sure.

  • Thank you for your reply. The only reason I put just "Cauasian male with ice powers" was because I wan't sure how information to share without spoiling anything or worrying that someone else who comes across my ideas might take them before I finish my writing (I have a problem with procrastinating). From the two book ideas together, that I mentioned before, I have made up at least 30-50 original characters of my own. And for the title, I'm thinking of calling it "The Naturals" or something to that effect. – Nicole B. Jun 1 '15 at 22:54
  • @NicoleB. No problem and good luck with your book. – jm13fire Jun 1 '15 at 22:57
  • Thanks, I also wanted to ask for your opinion on the placeholder title too, if you don't mind. – Nicole B. Jun 1 '15 at 23:16
  • @NicoleB. I don't mind, ask away – jm13fire Jun 1 '15 at 23:16
  • What do you think of the title "The Naturals", for it? – Nicole B. Jun 1 '15 at 23:48

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