I contribute to a motoring website, well, one that's got Photoshop of cars, motoring history etc. - it's a small obscure site with only a few users.

Recently I've been learning InDesign and Quark Xpress for digital publishing, and made a few of my own publications - with real-life titles, even though the content is fictitious - my own versions of cars, and fictitious towns with dealers (based around What Car?, Motor Trend, Auto Trader and Auto Exchange magazines - all real-life popular car magazines).

The content is fictitious (e.g. no such places as Esfolk - a parody of Norfolk/Suffolk, or Marlholme etc.) and even some brands that no-longer exist get vehicles created for them in Photoshop (e.g. a Rover 600 convertible and hatchback). There's even fictitious car dealers, and the effort put into making the adverts look realistic is done for verisimilitude purposes - apart from phone numbers (for obvious reasons, i.e. privacy) which are made longer and have numbers added in between, e.g. 01234 123456 becomes 012345413210 123456.

The magazines' inside design differs from the original, using different fonts, colours etc. - enough to avoid claims that it's 'ripping-off' the original design. The facts themselves (car prices of new vehicles etc.) are just data, and can't be copyrighted, if I'm correct, since this data is in the public domain.

I am wondering is this considered fan fiction? - I think it's a derivative work (bear in mind I am from the UK, so British law applies). As I understand it, Photoshop works of vehicles are derivative works under British law.

Currently my works are not on the site as I'm trying to ensure this fanfiction is legally compliant - it's my first real 'go' as it were, at fanfiction.

Relating to this question here would my content be considered 'sufficiently different' and as satire, as this is affectionate parody, not a "let's poke fun at this work"-type parody.

The point of creating these works is twofold; to show my design skills to fellow enthusiasts, and a tribute work to car magazines that us automobile enthusiasts like - basically, a sort of fan site, if you like.

Basically, what I'm asking, is how to do things right with fan-fiction, especially since this isn't the usual type of question about fan-fiction works based on TV shows etc. as I'm very new to this area.

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    would you care to share these faux-magazines? I'm considering something very similiar and would LOVE to see what other people are doing... – randomblink Jul 8 '13 at 16:21
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    AFAIK 'fan fiction' actually isn't a legal term in any jurisdiction, and fan fiction writers are all theoretically wide open to be sued. In practice this doesn't happen because writers etc. recognise that fanfiction doesn't cause any harm & acts as a form of free advertising. – evilsoup Oct 8 '13 at 16:58

One of the difficulties you face is that of passing off. Ironically the better the job you do of (affectionately) parodying the visual style of the products you celebrate, the greater the risk that a reasonable person might be mislead into believing that your work is actually from the famous brand and hence infringes on their trademarks.

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As long as the work is sufficiently differentiated from the original sources, it should qualify as original work in which case you would own the full copyright over it. Even still, original trademarks and registered trade names if used, such as British Leyland (BL) Austin, Jaguar etc. would still be the copyright of the original owners. If used, you must attribute copyright to them.

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    I have this footer on my file I created: All characters and other entities appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, or other real-life entities, past or present, is purely coincidental. However, the place-names, I assume, are not copyrightable, e.g. Ashton-super-Mare etc. and telephone codes with additional numbers in? All the advertisers are fictitious as well. – avenas8808 Jan 7 '13 at 20:13
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    The problem with this footer is that it isn't true. As you've described it, the resemblance isn't coincidental, it's the intended purpose of the site. This doesn't prevent it from being satire, but avenas is right, the use of specific logos or genuine car names are protected trademarks. Place names are not protected, but I would hesitate about giving the genuine phone number. That makes it sound too much like a 'real' car rather than a parody. – Lazarus Apr 11 '13 at 14:01
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    This answer is conflating trademarks and copyrights. You can't copyright a trade name, but you can trademark it. – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 9 '13 at 2:34

Under US law, a direct parody is considered "fair use". What isn't fair use is parodying something for some other purpose.

Of course, it's my understanding that English is spoken in other countries besides the US, and the laws there may be different.

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  • By "some other purpose" do you mean malicious parody or parody that's slander in disguise? – Goodbye Stack Exchange Feb 8 '13 at 3:36
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    @NeilFein -- I refer you to the case of Dr. Seuss v. Penguin Books, which I am totally not making up. The author of The Cat NOT in the Hat! mimicked the style of a Dr. Seuss book while retelling the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the book was a satire, not a parody, because the book did not poke fun at or ridicule Dr. Seuss or his works. Instead, it merely used the Seuss style to tell a story of the murder. – Malvolio Feb 8 '13 at 6:19

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