I contribute to a small website, well, one that's got Photoshop of various things. - 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.

The content is fictitious (e.g. no such places as Esfolk - a parody of Norfolk/Suffolk, or Marlholme etc.).

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 car 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... Commented Jul 8, 2013 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
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 16:58
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    The issues her are pretty much entirely legal issues, not writing issues. This will get significantly better answers on Law.SE than it will here, I think.Indeed I am not sure it is on-topic for Writing.SE. Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


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.

  • Passing off only applies when a mark is used in trade, that is used to identify or advertise goods or services sold or rented or offered for sale or rent. If I write a novel in which characters drink "coco-coola" there is no passing off issue. Nor is there infringement if the characters mare said to drink Coke.Only if models or images were sold under circumstances which plausibly lead to confusion with the real thing or trade on the good will of the original would there be an issue. Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 2:41
  • If you produce a magazine that looks very like a real magazine, or looks as if it could be an officially endorsed publication (e.g. Nintendo Magazine), there could certainly be a passing off or trademark issue, particularly if you sell it (passing off generally requires consumers to be potentially or actually confused so if you only give it to your mates there may not be an issue). This is a real problem with fan fiction because it might be thought to be passing off as an official publication.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 18:07

Fan Fiction

As a comment mentions, "fan fiction" is not a legal concept, and has no particular protections or rights. Most fan-fiction is in fact a copyright infringement. Some authors and publishers choose not to take legal action against creators and distributors of fan fiction, perhaps on the theory that it serves to advertise the original works, and helps build good will. Others attempt to prevent the publication and distribution of fan fiction, and may bring suits in some cases. Many have found it impractical to respond to every piece of fan fiction. That does not make such works legal, or ensure that any given author will not take legal action against a given work of fan fiction.

A few authors have explicitly permitted works of fan-fiction, either specific instances or in general. That is not the majority position.

In any case, the kind of faux magazines described in the question are not fan fiction as that term is usually used. Nor do they seem to be parodies as that term is used in copyright law. They may or may not be unlawful.

IP Rights

There are two main kinds of IP that might be involved here: trade marks and copyrights.

Trade Marks

Under the UK Trade Marks Act of 1994 (section 10 (1))

a person infringes a registered trade mark if he uses in the course of trade a sign which is identical with the trade mark in relation to goods or services which are identical with those for which it is registered.

Paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 10 of the Act also contain the qualifying phrase "in the course of trade". Those are the paragraphs describing infringing actions under the Act.

It would appear that no use of a mark that is not used in connection with good or services that are being sold, rented or leased, offered for sale, rental, or lease, or used in connection with advertising such goods or services is a "use in trade". The uses of trademarks or imitations or parodies of trademarks described in the question do not seem to be used in trade. Therefore, use as described in the question would not seem to infringe any actual trade marks under UK law. Much the same would be true under US law, and, to the best of my understanding, under the laws of most other countries.


Under The Berne Convention, and under both UK and US copyright law, a work that is based on another work is a derivative work This include translations, imitations, parodies, and sequels.

Under US law there is a limited exception for parodies which comment on the original, but not for parodies which use the form of the original to comment on other issues, or for general humor; those are considered satire, and do not fall within the exception, which is an aspect of fair use. In any case that does not apply in UK law.

Whether a work is so closely based on another that it constitutes a derivative work is a judgement call. Simply being an instance of the same general plot such as "boy meets girl" or "the man who learned better" is not enough. A detailed chapter-by-chapter or paragraph-by-paragraph similarity would generally make the newer work a derivative work.

If the connection between source and later work is not easy to notice, it is less likely to be treated as a derivative work.

If a work is derivative, and the source work is still under copyright protection, permission is required. Otherwise it is a copyright infringement to create or distribute the derivative work.

Place names, words and phrases, and facts

Place names, real or invented, are not protected by copyright. Their use is not infringement.

Individual words and short phrases, such as book or song titles, are not protected by copyright. Their use is not infringement.

Facts are never protected by copyright. However, the selection and arrangement of facts may be protected, if there is some creativity or originality in the design. An obvious or natural arrangement, such as alphabetical, numerical, or chronological order, will not gain copyright protection.

The specific words used to express a fact may be subject to copyright protection, but not if they are the only way, or the only natural way, to express the fact.


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
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 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
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 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. Commented May 9, 2013 at 2:34
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    Trademarks are not protected by copyright. The two kinds of law are significantly different, although they have some similarities. If nothing is in fact being sold or advertised, there is no trademark issue. Trademarks are not protected against fictional use. Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:02

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.

  • I would expect that made-up place names such as "Ashton-super-Mare" qualify as creative work. I'm not saying there's much creativity, but at least some. Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 17:23
  • @Toby Speight Place Names, real or invented, are not subject to copyright at all, so whether they are creative is irrelevant. Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 14:19
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    @avenas8808 such a footer is of very little legal effect. If a person can demonstrate defamation it will not be an effective defense. Nor will it defend against copyright infringement.. Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 14:21

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.

  • By "some other purpose" do you mean malicious parody or parody that's slander in disguise? Commented Feb 8, 2013 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. Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 6:19
  • @Goodbye Under US law parody is fair USE only when it is used to comment on the oriuginal. When the form of the original is used simply to tell some other story, or to make a general social point, it is not a parody in the sense that grants a fair use exemption.The US rule that a parody will be fair use is much more limited than many people understand. Malvolio is quite correct.. Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:07

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