I wrote a 101 Dalmatians retelling, and as far as I know from the research I have done, 101 Dalmatians is not yet part of the public domain. But my retelling is almost completely different from the original; the only similarities are the names and the fact that I make a few references to the original story and how it's generally told. But the roles of the characters have been switched and the point of the retelling is to show it from a different perspective. The narrator states that the way the story has been told is completely wrong, but even when referencing the original, I don't use the title of the book. Does it seem different enough for me to publish? Sorry if this is lacking information, but I'm trying to be as ambiguous about the story as I can while still giving necessary info for an answer...

  • If you can track down the copyright owner, you may be able to license it in some way. – Walt Nov 12 at 23:00
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    "how different" may equate to simply "how aggressive is the copyright holder's lawyer". – mickeyf Nov 13 at 3:13
  • @mickeyf In this case, aggressive enough that you might want to be careful about calling yourself "Mickey" where they might be listening. – Ray Nov 13 at 4:05
  • It's worth noting that Disney has, in many cases, written or rewritten the law on copyright themselves (via lobbyists) in order to more aggressively protect their characters. – Chris Sunami Nov 13 at 14:35

In general, fictional characters are copyright protected. You can't publish a story where Cruella De Vil opens an animal shelter, for example. It doesn't really matter what the work is about, you can't take someone else's well-defined creation of the character's name, description, and demeanor, and use it as your own. You would be leveraging someone else's intellectual property to publicize your own work.

https://corporate.findlaw.com/intellectual-property/protection-of-fictional-characters.html

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    Points, this would be my own answer. You just can't get around it, you probably cannot even write a story about "101 Dalmatians". I hope the writing was entertaining for you. You might be able to rewrite in a way that doesn't use the names, and makes the heroes and villains significantly different from the original, but I don't think you will be able to sell or market a "retelling" of 101 Dalmatians without the copyright owners giving you permission (or suing you to the rafters). And why would they give permission, if your version dilutes their heroes and villains? – Amadeus Nov 12 at 21:11
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    There is, however, an exception for "parody" so if the retelling is sufficiently disrespectful and mocking of the original and its author you can get away with it, or at least win the lawsuits. – Perkins Nov 12 at 23:04
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    Call it "101 Other Dalmatians." – Beanluc Nov 13 at 0:52

People retell stories all the time. The question is, are you retelling the story, or reusing the world? You generally can't reuse the world (although there are cases that have been successful, like Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone). But there's little that can stop you from retelling the story.

Note that the history of The Wind Done Gone is very relevant to you as you seem to be reusing someone else's world rather than just retelling the story. People do get finicky about that.

One of my favorite examples, though movies, is Robert Redford's The Natural, which is a retelling of Abbott and Wallop's Damn Yankees, which is itself a retelling of Faust.

And if you really want some fun, see the pedigree of modern stories like The Terminator in answers to a question of mine over at SciFi.SE.

The one thing you should have going for you is your retelling is original in that people could recognize its antecedents, but the story stands completely on its own.

The one thing really against you starts with a statement my retired attorney father was fond of saying: anyone can sue for anything at any time. You could have picked an easier antecedent. Disney is very big with a lot of laywers... and they tend to fight for what they perceive is their property.

Which would be more than hypocritical since pretty much every story/movie they've ever made was a retelling of another story. Take, for convenient example, 101 Dalmatians, which was a movie based on the book One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.

I wonder who actually has the copyright to the original story?

  • Not sure The Wind Done Gone is a great example of success - the author got sued by the copyright holder, spent a year in court, and finally settled for an undisclosed sum. We don't know who the courts would have sided with. – Nuclear Wang Nov 13 at 13:54
  • @NuclearWang, Actually, I should have made that more clear. Though the book's use of another author's world was technically a success in that the book was allowed to continue publication, you are most certainly correct that it's a failure in that the author was, indeed sued and "lost" in terms of having to pay a penalty. Perhaps worst of all, the avoidance of a court judgment means there's no case law either way to clarify the issue. Thus, the reason I included the anecdote about my father. – JBH Nov 13 at 14:10

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