My girlfriend and I want to write a story about science fiction. I'm a fan of Star Wars, and many of the ideas in this universe are fantastic, but I do not want to plagiarize anyone.

Is there any way of knowing what ideas I can use without infringing the copyright of the original work?

Accepted answer

I liked the comments and answers to my question, thank you all. However ticked in response to response #Lonstar. His idea that helped me formulate the context of my new science fiction story.

I will create a different Star Wars story, but with some concepts, such as an order of warriors (not with sabers), an empire and aliens.

Feel free to edit the grammar, I'm not very experienced with English. Will create new questions to develop my story legally.

Thanks for all!!


3 Answers 3


First... <<< Not a lawyer

and I think you mean "write a science fiction story" rather than "write a story about science fiction".

If you really do want to write about Star Wars the franchise, that's journalism, and unless you're passing off someone's work as your own you don't generally need to worry about copyright problems with using parts of the work of others so long as you are using short excerpts (exact quantity is open to debate but should be easy to verify, and you should).

But I'm assuming you want to write actual science fiction and so the short answer to your question: Is there any way of knowing what ideas I can use without infringing the copyright of the original work?

Is - no. Someone could decide that you're ripping them off and sue you for pretty much any basis. Now whether they can prove to a judge's satisfaction that you ripped them off is the cross-product of how much you actually did rip them off and how much you are willing to commit to the fight. (this is the bottom scum patent trolls feed from).

So, I can't tell you how your work will turn out or whether you will get sued, but I can recommend this - watch "Chopped" on the Food Network. The elements of story, the things we've gathered around different kinds of campfires to repeat to each other for a thousand years, are the chicken breasts, noodles, lamb's brains, cotton candy of fiction. They're what Ecclesiates was referring to when he said "There is nothing new under the sun".

What -is- new under the sun is how creatively you take these elements and present them. Like the judges on Chopped, your audience knows what you are working with - it's why they chose your work. So you're making something with chicken. But watch what the judges do - they look at the guy who cooked the chicken, made a pan sauce and put a piece of broccoli on it and cut him because they have seen that 10,000 times before.

But the gal who made a sugar glaze, boiled the chicken to a foam and made ice cream out of it...well, you would never eat that crap but it's -interesting-. And that's what makes you original - take the same ingredients whoever you're "paying homage" to and make a new dish out of it.

That's what Lucas did - he took from 1000 western and World War II and Japanese samurai movies, threw in some literary theory (Campbell's hero's journey) and made a new dish. To some it was chicken foam ice cream and to some it was the gateway drug to 1000 new flavors.

And I believe Lucas did get sued, because if you're successful there will always be cockroaches and silverfish that will scuttle out and try to get a nibble. It doesn't mean you're dirty - it just means you have something worth nibbling on. Good luck.


Is there any way of knowing what ideas I can use without infringing the copyright of the original work?

You mean, aside from either asking permission from the copyright holder, or going ahead and publishing something and then successfully defending yourself against a claim of copyright infringement? No, not really.

Disney, and LucasArts before them, has a pretty strong history of asserting trademarks on each and every name or unique term derived from the Star Wars universe, and character copyright on not only their unique characters, but also their fictional homes, vehicles, technology, and associations. You absolutely cannot write a story about a Jedi, a Droid, someone with a lightsaber, or a member of any of the defined species that appear in the Star wars films or extended universe material.

Be aware that both trademark (the term itself) and "character copyright" (the characteristics of a fictional entity that themselves can constitute a copyrightable work) are distinct items of intellectual property. While there is some allowance for use of trademarks when referring to the thing they are protecting, and some significant debate about what is and is not a protectable "character copyright", unless you're willing to fight the most feared IP legal team on the planet in open court, you should steer clear of Star Wars or beg permission.

(And, for the love of all that is holy, realize that "fan fiction" is just "copyright infringing works that aren't worth a lawyer's time"!)

All that said, a good measure for which ideas and concepts appear in Star Wars but are nevertheless free to use is anything that appeared in a PUBLISHED WORK other than Star Wars that was not licensed or used with permission. Things like faster-than-light travel (near every interstellar sci-fi), a special group of semi-mystical protectors (lensmen, green lantern), and even robot slaves (Asimov, Metropolis) are all fair game, in the abstract, so long as you don't make exact copies of how Lucas (or the other author) did them.


IANAL - not a lawyer

I strongly doubt that writing your story as fan fiction gives you any legal rights that you would not have otherwise. However, if the Star War franchise has been tolerating fan fiction without taking any legal action, you can draw two consequences:

  • the franchise is probably not likely to pick on you more than on anyone else;

  • not enforcing for some time the prohibition of fan fiction weakens their legal right to do it in your case, or at least to seek damages.

Other than that ...

If you take the characters, or the names used in Star Wars, this is probably an infringement.

If it is just some ideas, you are probably not infringing. For example, Ursula le Guin used in a novel a communication device called the ansible. This was reused by other authors (Orson Scott Card), and I do not know that anyone considered it plagiarism.

More generally you can quote other works, or make references to event that occurred in other works without plagiarizing, and I guess without infringing the copyright.

Reusing the precise setting of a work, as in fan fiction can be more touchy. Some authors will not tolerate fan fiction. Others will not mind.

One case is usually not considered copyright infringement : satyre. If you reuse the characters (usually slightly misnamed) and the setting of a well known novel or franchise to make a satyrical version of it, that is allowed in the copyright law of many countries, as fair use or under some other denomination.

Story ideas cannot be copyrighted by themselves, but if you use someones story idea, you should make sure that your treatment of the idea is really original.

One good principle that comes from academia. If you are reusing ideas or other creatives contributions from another author, just be clear about it, and say it explicitly somewhere (footnote, end notes, ... whatever). This will at least show you are not trying to cheat anyone, that you do thing in good faith. Though, in principle, good faith may not have legal value in many cases, it can still help a lot mitigating legal conflicts.

If you are really creative, and clear about what you borrow, I doubt anyone can accuse you of plagiarism. But recall that plagiarism and copyright infringement are not necessarily the same. One is moral and the other is legal.

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