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I am a fan of the book "Machine of Death"; http://machineofdeath.net/pdf/MachineofDeath_FINAL.pdf

PDF Page 452 of the above link details the copyright for the material contained within the book. However I cannot determine if the actual concept of a "Machine of Death", that determines your cause of death from a drop of blood, is copyrighted.

So basically can someone create a "Machine of Death" story that is completely original to the stories within the book except that a "Machine of Death" as described above is within the book (and indeed is a major plot device)?

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Concepts are not copyrightable. However, unusual similarities in story, characters, plotline, accidental or otherwise, can form the basis for a copyright infringement claim. This usually only comes up when the claimant can demonstrate economic harm or is protecting valuable IP.

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U.S. copyright law explicitly says that you do not have a copyright in an idea. There's a big international treaty about copyright so most other countries would be the same.

You only own a copyright to the exact words, pictures, or other "tangible expression" of an idea. If you're not copying someone else's exact words (or pictures or music or whatever), you're not violating their copyright.

Update

I should add, the NAME "Machine of Death" could be trademarked, if that's the actual name used in the stories you're stealing from ... I mean drawing inspiration from. You can avoid any problem there by just using a different name. I think that would be a good idea in any case to make your own work look more original.

If your intent is that you want to write stories that fit into someone else's universe, I'd heartily encourage you not to. It's one thing to say, "hey, that's a cool idea, I'd like to adapt that and use it in my own stories". It's quite another to take someone else's characters, settings, plot arcs, etc, and plagiarize wholesale. Make up your own universe.

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This is treading on thin ice in this case. Although ideas cannot generally be copyrighted, US law does offer extra protection for a series, and the story you're a fan of is a series of stories under the conceptual umbrella of the Machine of Death.

So yes, it might well be a problem if you come up your own story using the "Machine of Death" label.

You could safely borrow the idea in a general sense—some machine, computer or other method that predicts a person's death with unerring accuracy. If you're determined to write another story in the universe of the original book, you could try asking permission from whoever owns the rights. If they don't plan more books, they might say yes.

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