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I have read this similar question but it does not really address my question.

What if I want to write a novel or a short story that is inspired by (or outright a retelling of) a popular poem written by a great poet who has died more than a hundred years ago, as a tribute to the poet?

If I ever published that novel or story, I obviously intend to add the poets name and reference right after the title.

How do copyrights apply here?

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    It would also depend on which it actually is. Being inspired by a story but not actually copying or using anything from it is different from rewriting/retelling it. Many stories are "retold". The Hero's Journey is a story format that has been retold forever. But each uses their own variation of it and taken from inspiration of other similar ones. Thousands of writers right now are trying to write the next LOTR because they were inspired by that story. They don't need to give it credit because their story is not using middle earth.
    – ggiaquin16
    Dec 8, 2017 at 15:53

2 Answers 2

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People seem to get confused on this point often. Copyright protects the exact words used (or pictures or sounds or whatever, but we're dealing with words here.) It does not protect a "story idea". If you copy, say, one of the Harry Potter books word for word, put your name on it, and try to sell it, that's a violation of copyright. But if you make up your own story about wizards and magic schools, as long as you do not use the same words, it is not copyright violation. Even if everyone who reads it says, "Wow, this story is a total rip-off from Harry Potter", they may ridicule for being uncreative, but you have not violated copyright.

New writers often ask the same question you're asking here but from the opposite perspective: They's say, I have this great story idea but I haven't written the book yet. How can I copyright my idea so no one else can steal it. The short answer is: You can't. You can't get copyright to an idea or a plot, only to the exact words you use to tell the story.

There are difficult cases when you copy SOME of somebody else's words but not all of them. If you copied long sections of the original poem, you could get in trouble. But if you just re-tell the same basic story in different words, you are 100% safe.

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  • Yes, this was basically what I was trying to say in my comment, but said a lot better than me XD
    – ggiaquin16
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:12
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    Sure. I was just trying to spell it out a little more.
    – Jay
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:13
  • yes, very well said. Thanks for turning it into an answer! (no not looking for credit just glad to see someone expand on a notion that I had).
    – ggiaquin16
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:14
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    @ggiaquin I'm happy to share any money I make from this post with you. :-)
    – Jay
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:14
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    This misses the whole area of derivative work, which is important. You cannot write a 8th Harry Potter book using all new words either. Nor can you make Harry Potter songs, movies, plays, video games, etc. These are all derivative works and they are protected.
    – user16226
    Dec 8, 2017 at 23:31
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Google "how long does copyright last", you will get the terms for most countries in the results. In the USA, here is a link that summarizes it:

https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/faqs/copyright-basics/

Excerpt from that link:

For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, if the work is a work for hire (that is, the work is done in the course of employment or has been specifically commissioned) or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, even if the author died over 70 years ago, the copyright in an unpublished work lasts until December 31, 2002. And if such a work is published before December 31, 2002, the copyright will last until December 31, 2047.

So if your poet died before 1917, and published before then, it means their work is Public Domain (in the USA) and you can use it as you wish.

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  • Interesting. If an author uses a pen name and his identity is well established, his works still fall under a different copyright classification?
    – Alexander
    Dec 8, 2017 at 18:05
  • @Alexander I don't understand your question. Pen names do not matter in copyright. You cannot adopt a "pen name" that is the same name as another author and trick people into thinking you are them, that is a form of fraud, identity theft, etc. The copyright on a work is held by the person that authored it, or their estate, regardless of what name it is published under. For example, Samuel Clemens owned the copyright on all works published under the name Mark Twain, his pen name.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 8, 2017 at 19:21
  • no, I don't mean messing with other's pen names. For example, for Dr. Seuss' books published after 1977, would copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of Theodor Seuss Geisel, or 95-120 years after the publication date?
    – Alexander
    Dec 8, 2017 at 20:01
  • Since Dr. Seuss was not published anonymously (you know it was T.S. Geisel), and if we assume he did not work for a company (although it is possible), for everything he published after 1977, the copyright expires 70 years after his death. --------- It is possible he worked for a company he owned, some authors do that to protect themselves by limiting liability. In which case the 95 to 120 year criteria would apply.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 8, 2017 at 20:13
  • Under US copyright law, if you write a book under a pseudonym, you can put your real name on the copyright registration forms. If you do that, then the term of your copyright is your death plus 70 years. If you do not, then the term of the copyright is ... I think it's 90 years from date of publication. Whatever the number is. If you do put your real name on the copyright registration, this is public record so anyone who wanted to know (and who knows how to access the records) could find out your real name. So if you're using a pseudonym because you want to hide your identify, etc.
    – Jay
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:12

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