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Can I use the phrases "what do you see?" and "I see--" that is used in Brown Bear, Brown Bear in a children’s book, or are those phrases copyrighted? My book is about Halloween characters seeing things during Halloween.

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    Do you have any reason to assume that you wouldn't be allowed to use these phrases? They're extremely common.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 7:31
  • Are you the same user who posted this question last month?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 7:32
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    Does this answer your question? Would this be a copyright issue?
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 7:59
  • Your question needs a better title. We can already see (from the tags) that it's a question about copyright. Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 12:17

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I did some research and could not find a suitable link or copyright case.

Children's book publishing subdivides into reading levels. The youngest category is called Pre-emergent Readers – under 5 years old and a very limited vocabulary (further breakdown of categories listed here).

With a limited number of words suitable for books aimed at kids under 5, it seems like copyright should be 'looser' because those words will be very common – that's not how copyright works. It's not about the exact phrase or the words themselves, it's about intent. Your intent, as stated, is to copy Brown Bear.

The author and publisher of Brown Bear have already copied Brown Bear. It has 'sequels' which follow their established pattern. The book is popular, and has market recognition as the intellectual property of the author. The fact that sequels exist makes your claim harder. You are now treading on the copyright of not just 1 book, but a whole franchise of similar books that exploit the formula.

It's not just that someone in the book says the phrases "What do you see?" and "I see..." – the glaring issue is this call-and-answer is the defining structure of the books. It's a winning idea. That's why the books are so popular – 8 million hardcovers sold, and translated into 8 languages. If everyone could steal this idea, they would.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE:

Find another pattern for your prompt and response.

Children do more than just 'see' things and 'say' what they are. Brown Bear is simplistic genius – kids DO see and say a lot! But try to find another experience that can use a repeatable phrase: a 'prompt' that elicits a 'response' that children can remember. They can 'read along' with the adult and participate by saying the memorized response. Make your own original pattern.

Take inspiration from Brown Bear's winning formula, but beware that such a simple formula is going to be obvious when copied too closely. Just changing a few words will not hide the source material.

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