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I put a bit of Arthurian fantasy into a short story I wrote. I originally thought that this was perfectly acceptable, as many books do so, and the original stuff is ancient. But after reading this, I'm not so certain.

Is there a general guideline of what material can or cannot be used for your own work, if you plan to publish? At what point, say along a sliding scale from mythology to Lovecraft Mythos to modern works, does one need to get permission from a copyright holder?

  • I don't know what the term 'Matter of Britain' means. Can you explain so that I might be able to answer your question? – S. Mitchell Sep 5 at 20:52
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    @S.Mitchell Apparently it's another term for the Arthurian legends. I personally never would have guessed that if it weren't for the mention of "Arthurian fantasy" in the question; it's not a term I've ever heard used to describe them before. – F1Krazy Sep 5 at 21:01
  • Some Arthurian stories may be legends, others myths, and some possibly history. But the majority are works of historical fiction about the Arthurian era published in the last 900 years. Probably no heirs of medieval writers know they are the heirs to sue you, but 19th and 20th century writers of Authurian stories probably have known heirs to sue you for using their plots, characters, etc. without permission. – M. A. Golding Sep 6 at 17:19
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The Arthurian legends are in the public domain. You can use the names, places and storylines as much as you want.

To quote this Quora source:

Sure you can. Camelot, King Arthur, the Holy Grail and the Round Table are all in the public domain. You can use as much or as little of any of them as you like in whatever story you want to tell. No-one is going to bring any copyright lawsuits against you.

Typically, the reason people get sued for things like this is when there is a living member of the author's estate, as there is with Sir Conan Doyle's estate. However, in this case, there is nobody associated with the writing of the Arthurian mythology who has living relatives or active people defending the copyright, so go nuts.

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    You should double check that the idea you believe to be a part of the traditional Arthurian canon actually is though. Some related concepts are relatively modern inventions which might have a valid copyright claim to be made on it. – origimbo Sep 6 at 12:11
  • @origimbo Valid point. This answer encompasses Camelot, King Arthur, the Holy Grail and The Knights and Round Table, which are all definitively public domain. However, some concepts might not be since they came from newer works, so it is good to check. – Sciborg Sep 6 at 22:27
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Possibly a good idea for a writer who wants to write Arthurian stories is to start reading them from the earliest writings onward and note which plot points are out of copyright.

You could start by reading about the possibly historical Arthur in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae.

Then try reading early Welsh Arthurian stories and poems like "Culwich and Olwen" and "the Dream of Rhonaby" and the Arthurian Triads.

Then read Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain which depicted an allegedly historial arthur and made him famous through out Europe, and his successors like Wace, who introduced the Round table, and Layamon.

Then read medieval romances, basically historical novels set in the era of Arthur, by writers like Chretein de Troyes who introduced Lancelot and the Holy Grail into Arthurian Stories, and Robert de Boron who introduced the Sword in the Stone, and so on.

And you should read a lot of 19th, 20th, and 21st century Arthurian novels, or read various accounts of modern Arthurian literature which descirbe which novels added new plot elements and which novels later used them. You have little hope that the heirs of such recent writers would be unaware of being their heirs or would ignore any copyright infringements.

And you should watch a lot of Arthurian movies or otherwise learn about their plots.

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