My question concerns the author Ben H. Winters who has recently published several books with himself listed as Jane Austen’s co-author. Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters is one such novel adapting Sense and Sensibilities to a horror theme. Winters puts his name after Austen’s on the cover and in credits.

I would like to know if this is giving obligatory credit to the author of his borrowed content, or violating a copyrighted claim of another author. The copyright has lapsed, but does anything speak to protocol in crediting deceased contributing authors?

For example, if I were to place Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad into an alternate universe, keeping a very large part of his dialogue, but perhaps moving his 6-month promised land steamer cruise in 1859 to a Martian space cruise in the year 2359, would I need to claim co-authorship with Mark Twain?

  • 1
    Interesting question, but maybe better for law SE? I think (mis)using an author's name isn't a copyright violation, in any case, but it might be something like trade-mark infringement.
    – user54131
    Mar 18, 2022 at 6:25
  • I wonder if Seth Grahame-Smith, credited as co-author of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, only got half the going rate when it was turned into a film, on the basis that he only wrote half of it. If you published something solely credited to Austen, and someone pirated it, then the subsequent lawsuit would be interesting - the work would presumably be copyright but you would have a harder job to prove authorship. Regardless, if your question is purely about law you should ask in Law SE, although other issues can be discussed here.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 23, 2022 at 20:38
  • It depends on the answer I suppose. If the only thing that restricts us is the law, then I can ask there as well.But if there are publishing house restrictions or ethical considerations, they can’t help me I think. I’m starting out generally.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 23, 2022 at 20:47
  • I think a publisher would frown very deeply if you tried to pass derivative work like this off as fully your own. So you have to credit the original author in some way, but maybe not as coauthor. Aside from that, if you want to register copyright (in the US), then on the form you also need to identify preexisting work that your work is based on (copyright.gov/circs/circ14.pdf). (Because your claims only extend to the new material.)
    – user54131
    Mar 24, 2022 at 7:10

1 Answer 1


Creative Commons has some guidelines for how to use Public Domain works.

They suggest giving credit to the original author, but not in a way that suggests said author endorses your work. In addition, the changes should be clearly marked. The standards for the crediting citation are that they “may be made in accordance with any relevant scientific, scholarly, disciplinary or community practice.”

Claiming someone co-authored a book with you implies that there was an intentional collaboration, which is certainly an endorsement. Those aware of who both authors are will know that's not the case, at least in the example in the question. But some people may not know. And for works that enter the public domain in other ways, the original author may still be alive and not happy that people think they collaborated on that project.

(While not entirely relevant to the question, I'd like to touch on how an author using public domain works can indicate changes. In the type of work in the question, it would be appropriate to label it as "based on" the public domain work, and summarize the changes in a foreword.)

To be clear, these are guidelines for "good citizenship" and are not necessarily legally binding. Could you get in legal trouble if you don't follow this (e.g. for false advertising)? I'm not sure, but I know that you can't go wrong being transparent in the way they suggest.

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