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My OCs (Original Characters) were stolen by an older person. She may or may not have copyrighted them. A few years ago I was like 13 and I posted some characters I made up and I really love them. One day I got on and saw someone posted the character I made and called it her own. Of course, we got into a whole argument and she said that she basically had more of a right to the character than I because she was better at art than I was. Well I thought she gave up and a few years later, I saw she was still posting I pictures of him and calling him her own.

Now see, I don't have a profile with a lot of followers and she does so I don't know what to do. I'm not good at art or writing and I'm 17 years old now. I feel like crying because both the characters she stole are very important in my story and she just dresses them up in maids outfits online.

I feel like I've been mugged of everything I ever worked for. I've been working on this story for 4 years just to find that some uncreative person with a little bit of talent took the most important thing I've ever made.

Can I keep my characters in my book or should I just give up with them?

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    IANAL. Has she written them into a story? Can you prove that your version was published first? In other words, can you go back to wherever you originally posted the characters? Have you saved the emails or posts where she claimed ownership based on better art? Frankly, I would just rename the characters and use them if you have any proof. If you have enough evidence, then I'd just ignore this woman and publish as is. I would have absolutely no further contact with her. – NomadMaker Feb 8 '18 at 1:20
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    For you to "own" those characters you'll need to create a project for them, I'm afraid that means you'll have to work to get better at art or writing – however you envisioned the character existing outside of your mind…. The thief was correct in one way: because she was a better artist she could make the character real. She didn't "take" anything because you hadn't created anything yet. What you had were ideas, seeds. You still have those. We have forced ourselves to learn to write (or draw) to make our characters real. You can too. It is a skill that is learned, and no one can take it away. – wetcircuit Feb 8 '18 at 5:50
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    There's really nothing that can be properly answered here, but your problem is a real one. Maybe a better question would be: ‘What can I do to develop my characters in a publishable, or otherwise copyrightable form, and as soon as possible?’ – can-ned_food Feb 8 '18 at 6:34
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    Note that a character cannot be copyrighted. A work about a character or containing a character can be copyrighted. Also, you have copyrights on any works you produce whether you register those copyrights with the US Copyright Office or not. If you have written a story or character sketch of this character, then you own that story or character sketch. Anyone copying from those works is violating your copyrights. You can check this site for more information and help: nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/copyright-law – Todd Wilcox Feb 8 '18 at 14:49
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    Also you might start an account at law.stackexchange.com and ask about this on that site instead. – Todd Wilcox Feb 8 '18 at 14:51
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A few years ago I was like 13 and I posted some characters I made up and I really love them.

If the stolen characters are still recognisably the same characters from that post, then you have incontrovertible, time-stamped proof that you are their original creator. If you still have screenshots of your correspondence with her (or access to them to take screenshots), then that's further proof, as she basically admitted to you that she stole them.

Again, I am not a lawyer, so I can't tell you whether that proof will stand up in a court of law. But it will stand up in the court of social media. So keep on posting your characters, and if anyone accuses you of ripping off that other woman, you can post your screenshots and show that it's the other way around.

If they are not recognisably the same characters, then they're not the same characters anymore. They're her own not-quite-original characters. In that case, the characters you originally created when you were 13 still belong to you, and you can keep on posting them with inpunity.

In short: regardless of what she's done with them, they're still your characters, you can prove they're your characters, and you can absolutely keep on doing whatever you like with them.

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    That, or simply do a better job with the characters than the other person — and not for spite, either, but simply in due respect to the characters themselves. – can-ned_food Feb 9 '18 at 7:47
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[Not a lawyer], but did you keep any of the exchange between the two of you in writing (e-mail, text message, etc.)? Saying she had more right because she was better at art could be taken an admission she was not the original creator - but at this point you'd be best consulting a legal professional. It might also depend how and where things were posted - there might be an argument of public domain, but in that case you both have as much of a right to use them as each other. Again, seek qualified legal advice - it might be that it's not worth pursuing.

Either way, keep writing. Keep creating characters. It might look now like it's the most important thing you've ever made, but it's worth thinking of it instead as just the most important thing you've made so far...

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tl;dr: Don't worry too much about another person "stealing" your characters. Even if she uses your names and your visual descriptions, chances are that her interpretation of your character are distinctly different from the character you developed in the first place. The problem gets even smaller when you and her use different types of art to work with the character.


Keep in mind that your original character and her interpretation of your ideas are not identical. Unless she is really good at inception, she has changed "your" characters into something that is uniquely hers and distinct from your original creation. If you change your names and alter some of your visual descriptions, I don't think many people will notice.

Additionally, I am not quite clear on what exactly she has done. Has she created portraits of your characters, or written about them? You write that you don't think that your art skills are very good. Fine, stick to writing then. Writing is much less visual, and to me, personally, the details of a character's physical description are almost irrelevant(*). What brings a written character to life, for me, is their personality.
How do they act, and why? What do they love, what do they strive for, what are they willing to sacrifice to reach their goals?
Creating a (written) character is an involved process that takes into account not only the present state of the character, but also where that character came from and a whiff of where it's going. Very good art can hint at these issues, and a good portrait should capture the personality of the portrayed person. Nevertheless, my personal, most likely horribly biased, impression is that a written character is inherently more dynamic: because it is allowed to act and change -- which is usually not true for a portrait (unless you count the portrait of Dorian Gray).

My point here is that graphic arts and writing focus on different aspects of a character. I think it is unlikely that people will recognise her character as yours if you use a different name. As an example, just think of all the Harry Potter fan-art that exists out there. Some of it is amazing, and yet not a single portrait of Sirius exists of which I can say: Yes, that's 100% him.

Lastly, keep in mind that many characters are related to one character archetype or another. Sometimes it's hard to put the exact name of the archetype on the character, but certain personality traits tend to bundle up and form characters that are very similar to each other. I've noticed that about a character of my own that I first wrote about 17 years ago. Once I had worked with him for some time, he developed a very distinct personality that clearly distinguished him from the rest of my characters. Then I read two books, both by German authors as well, both written for young adults, one a successful fantasy trilogy, the other a queer coming-of-age story. Both stories featured a character that I identified almost instantly as the mental twin of my character. (It took me one sentence in one book, and two in the other, which goes to show that the authors did a fine job of precisely capturing their character's personality when first introducing them.) I had never heard of these characters or books before, and I had not published any of my work. These three characters being so alike to each other was pure coincidence. They are all related to a Hermes-like (yes, the god), shapeshifter-type of enigmatic character, and the details just, weirdly, fell into place, right down to hair and eye colours and the existence of defining scars. And the best thing is: When the fantasy trilogy was turned into a movie, "my" character was played by the actor I always had envisioned playing my actual character. Watching this movie is like watching some of my creation coming to live -- which is plain amazing.

The point is this: I believe that certain structures exist, including whole characters, that resonate with us in a way that makes them turn up again and again. While this is not strictly related to your problem, it serves to show that hardly any "creation" is truly original. I rather believe that telling stories and populating them with our characters is our own subjective way of projecting ourselves onto a universal story. It is our interpretation. And because no two people are exactly alike, no two interpretations of the same story -- or character -- can ever be identical.


(*) For years, I was dead-sure the main character in my favourite YA book had black hair. Then a movie was made based on the book, and a light-blond guy played the main character. It was a shock, but I got over it, because the blond actor beautifully captured the personality of the character.

  • May I request a TL; Dr? I mean, it's a Great Wall of Text and most of it can be boiled down to "not everyone interprets characters the same way their author does" and "originality is dead and relative". – Mephistopheles Feb 8 '18 at 10:13
  • Pardon me, but perhaps you could consider omitting that “Lastly” paragraph. I don't think it really contributes much to the push of this answer – can-ned_food Feb 9 '18 at 7:45
  • From reading, it seems like the second person took the names and some cursory physical descriptions and posed them in certain costumes for portraits. – can-ned_food Feb 9 '18 at 7:49
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[Not a Lawyer, nobody's a lawyer here]

Double, triple and quadruple down, make them Creative Commons. I don't think said person have copyrighted them, but if she did, that's already grounds for exterminating the human race.

Back to the point, creative commons and public domain are like the Death Stars of copyrighting, because They're simple and powerful. You can't claim Greek mythology (a public domain) to be your invention, nor can anyone else. If your characters are under a specific creative commons license, you can keep them, and they can't be claimed by anyone else as their own, though they still can use them (down here in the internet's darkest pits, we call this use fanfiction/fanart/r34) but must credit you as the original creator.

Though I must say, does she really know and makes them better than you, their creator, does?! If not, you can point that out to her. However, if for instance, I have to choose between Reki Kawahara's Kirito or his abridged persona, created by Something Witty Entertainment, I'd chose abridged Kirito as he was A BETTER CHARACTER THAN THE ORIGINAL by 200%.

Seeing other people handle characters better than their creator is nothing new, and it can be boiled down to these "fixers" being unbiased, easily recognizing the flaws of a character and seeing them for what they really are.

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