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I want to write a realistic fiction book similar to Thomas Hardy’s works, where he used techniques and Biblical references (they were also called allusions) to make his writing more meaningful, and to prove points about Victorian society. I am interested in the use of allusions which can be used intentionally. I think that Allusions are still used to this day, such as in ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Percy Jackson’, so I won’t come off as old fashioned.

I had the idea where I would name a female character ‘Violet Raine’ to come off as a reference to the song ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince.

I don’t want to break a copyright rule even though I changed the name to make it hidden in the text, I am trying to achieve the affect of the allusion in writing without looking into Christian stories, so I am unsure if this is copyright as my reference is to a real musician. Does this depend on how I use the characters, or what region I will eventually publish my work?

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    Song titles aren’t copyrighted, which is why there are so many songs that share the same titles. Lyrics are usually copyrighted, so I’d recommend against your character’s full name being the first twenty words of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann. Allusion is almost always ok, and some of our greatest literature is loaded with it. – Chappo Jun 20 at 6:06
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    Was this inspired by the comments on the HNQ here at all? movies.stackexchange.com/a/101652/45982 I was instantly reminded of these comments when I read this question. – JMac Jun 20 at 13:30
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    @Chappo: You should leave that as an answer rather than a comment :) – V2Blast Jun 21 at 0:28
  • @V2Blast thanks, but there's a big difference in standards/expectations between a mere comment and an authoritative, detailed answer. In any case, the existing answers here are good, and I should be writing my novel rather than getting distracted on this excellent site :-) – Chappo Jun 21 at 0:44
  • I'm reminded of Ford Prefect from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although that would be a trademark violation. It's not in any case. – user Jun 21 at 9:05
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Naming your character Violet Raine does not violate copyright.

You can throw in a joke about the mom being a Prince fan but the father drew the line at naming the kid Purple. This would be contextualizing your story in the real world.

Since he has passed on, you can even make Prince a character in the story – I know that's not your question, but it's my segue into the grey area of Intellectual Property and celebrity image.

Based on your references to allusions, I'll guess that Prince is more a creative inspiration, not an actual character in the story (real or fictionalized), with references to cranberry berets and driving little red sportscars too fast. I'm not a lawyer, but I can't see how it would trigger the ire of his estate. Even if you were more on-the-nose with the references, in the US it would probably be considered fair use through recontextualization.

What might ultimately be a problem is if the work appears to trade on Prince's fame or image for commercial (marketing) purposes. A judge would consider your intent to determine if you have infringed on the estate's licensing (I have no knowledge of Prince's estate, this is just speaking generally about a celebrity whose image is a marketable commodity).

If the name of your novel were Purple Rain, or even Purple Raine, a judge might consider if that was just a grab for name recognition. Since you are going for more subtle allusions (homage?) it would be much harder to claim you are damaging or trading on the estate's intellectual property.

  • Hi, thank you for the suggestions but did Prince drive Sportscars, or something else. I don’t know what your referring to there, sorry – Edmund Frost Jun 19 at 16:06
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    @EdmundFrost, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Corvette – wetcircuit Jun 19 at 16:11
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    +1, Also not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice, but to be clear you don't have to "trigger the ire of his estate". Triggering the greed of his estate to take the profits of the book is enough! "Violet Raine" is different words than "Purple Rain", it is not a homonym, and that is all that matters. Copyright and trademarks of Names applies only to the specific words, not the concept in general. The only place where "kind of similar" matters is an infringement of a trademarked symbol, logo or artwork. – Amadeus Jun 19 at 20:54
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This is not a copyright issue.

Summary:

  • I am not a lawyer, of course.
  • You can't violate copyright just by using a word, name, title, or other short phrase that somebody else used.
  • A different intellectual property right might apply, but as long as it's clear that you're writing fiction, it should be fine.
  • If you use a real person's name, though, be careful that they or their estate won't have some other complaint against you.

(This answer cites sources from a mishmash of jurisdictions, but thanks to international treaties like the Berne Convention, the basics of copyright are mostly the same around the world.)

Copyright covers "creative works".[Berne] [US] A name does not meet the standard for a "creative work".[UK p.4] [US] [US] Basically, it's too short.

A name might be protected by other intellectual property rights, though. The main one is trade mark (one word, "trademark", in US English).[UK] [US] [US] Someone might have a trade mark registration on a particular name or phrase, and if you use that in your writing, they might decide to take you to court.

However, they would have to prove that your use of their trade mark was likely to confuse the public about the identity of your products versus theirs,[UK] [US] which is unlikely if you're clearly writing fiction. (They might also claim that what you wrote was injurious to their reputation, but that's defamation rather than intellectual property.)

The other kind of right that might stop you from using a real person's name is the right of publicity, or personality rights. These are much more internationally variable, so I'll just link you to Wikipedia: Personality rights.

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Prince was not the creator of the name "Violet Raine" and does not own or control any rights to it. You can name your kids Violet Raine. You can name yourself Violet Raine. You can name your fictional characters Violet Raine. You can even trace the ancestral history of actual people named Violet Raine or Violet Raines, many of whom predate the song by decades. There is a current actress who includes Violet Raine in her name. There are video game characters. It's just a name, and it has been around for a long time.

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It might not violate copyright, but that doesn't mean that it's a good idea.

In the Japanese manga Jojo's Bizarre Adventures, many of the characters were named after musicians and pop songs. However, when it was translated to English, many of those characters had their names altered to avoid legal issues with the record companies who owned the rights to those bands and musical pieces. I'm not certain what the exact legal reasoning for them to do so was, but it's clear that the record companies had enough clout to make any legal battles over the issue sufficiently costly to warrant a number of name changes to avoid it.

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    "I'm not certain what the exact legal reasoning for them to do so was" You're unnecessarily assuming there was a legal reason. Most likely it was rather a financial decision; It doesn't matter who's in the right, fighting a lawsuit is expensive either way. – Cubic Jun 20 at 13:17
  • @Cubic That's exactly what I'm saying, yes. – nick012000 Jun 20 at 13:22

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