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I was thinking about writing a short story depicting a real event that took place over 2000 years ago. I'm not using any real person, but I am using the place and it's surroundings. I've seen plenty of books, movies and songs being about the event, but wanted to be 100% sure that I'm not breaking any laws regarding it.

  • The frame challenge of the question is whether you can provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt on what is real relative to the event you refer to. Real in this case also includes establishing whether the facts occurred in a specific location. – NofP Aug 21 at 21:55
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No one owns a copyright or trademark on historical events, especially ones that happened way before copyrights or trademarks were invented. There is no reason why this would be illegal. (Note: I have not checked every one of the nearly 200 nations for laws against this, but anywhere where the internet is legal I'm sure history is too.)

As others have pointed out in comments some nations do have laws against blasphemy or distorting history (I'm guessing you can get away with the latter if you clearly label it fiction(?)), if you live in North America or Europe it's probably not an issue though, but you may want to check the freedom of speech laws for your country.

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    However one thing to be aware of is that some of what you think happened at that event may actually come from a fictionalization of that event, and if that fictionalization is still in copyright, then using that “fact” about the event might actually be problematic. – celtschk Aug 18 at 11:55
  • @celtschk That is a very good point and, if you can expand on it a bit, deserves its own answer. – Cyn Aug 18 at 13:51
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    And it might be good to add that in some places there are laws against "blasphemy" or against "distorting history." Though that's unusual. – Cyn Aug 18 at 13:53
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    @Cyn: you made a VERY good point.. both distorting history and blasphemy are definitely crimes in many countries. Worse it might just invite fanatics to come and kill you. And 2000 years probably isn't enough distance for many people. if your story is about the missing 30 years in Jesus' life in Roman middle east, where he was pretty much forest gump experiencing history ... I am pretty sure.. that would get you into a LOT of trouble. Or if you went that route with Mohamed. You would probably get a fatwa against you... – dolphin_of_france Aug 21 at 14:44
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My first impulse is to agree with DJSpicyDeluxe. No one "owns" an historical event. No one can sue you for copyright or trademark violation for saying that Caesar Augustus became emperor of Rome or some such.

No one owns a copyright in facts. You can only own a copyright in how you express facts. That is, if, say, a newspaper prints a story about the president visiting Ruritania, if you were to copy their words exactly or very closely and claim you wrote it, that would be copyright violation. But if you describe the same events in your own words, that is not copyright violation. The newspaper doesn't own the fact that the president visited Ruritania, they just own the story they wrote about it.

But that said, depending where you live, some countries have laws against criticizing the government or government-favored religions. If you discuss the life of Mohammad in a way that makes Mohammad look bad, you could get in legal trouble in most Muslim countries. If you describe some atrocity committed by the government, even if it was centuries ago, that can get you in trouble in some countries. Like, if you live in Turkey, you must be careful what you say about the genocide of the Armenians. Conversely, in Germany you can get in legal trouble if you speak positively of the Nazis.

So really, I think to answer your question we'd have to know where you live, what historical event you want to talk about, and how you want to present it.

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    Grouping together a bunch of dictatorships censoring "what's against the government" with Germany not allowing to praise Nazis suggests some sort of similarity between the two, which I'm sure you didn't intend, but it's still staring at me. (And I just commented on your other post about people being more sensitive about what they're routinely hurt with. Here be example.) – Galastel Aug 21 at 20:06
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    My intent here was to be informative and not to get into a debate about "good censorship" versus "bad censorship". – Jay Aug 21 at 20:22

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