Copyright Question

Say a person writes a novel or a script or something along those lines. Now, let’s say that this person creates a character who speaks only in quotes, and then only in quotes taken from a specific character created by another author.

A major part of this new character’s personality would be based on the fact that his speech is entirely comprised of quotes from a previously existing character from another work. The idea is that this new character is attempting to identify himself with the earlier character, and from that the reader may quickly draw insight into his motives and meanings, etc.

Would this be legal? Is this plagiarism, or just shabby post-modernism?

Are the quotes only from one person? How many quotes does he say? If the new character is attempting to shed new light on the previous character the work may qualify as a parody. However, whether the work qualifies as a parody will depend on a lot more than the information you gave.

One character in a cast of characters has a good deal of dialog. All of that character’s dialog is composed from quotes by a well known figure, say Hamlet or Kermit the Frog.

The idea is not to parody the original character, but to identify the new character as a poser or cliché.

qualifier: IANAL

Well, if you quote Hamlet you’re ok because that work is in the public domain. You can quote any work in the public domain as many times as you want and you’ll be ok.

A work that is not in the public domain would be a bit trickier. A quote cannot be copywritten, but the entire work in which it originated can be. Though it would be hard to tell without knowing the entirety of the new work and from what works it was taken, I would guess the following factors would be taken into account:

  • From how many sources is the new work taken? (i.e., If you are quoting Kermit, is it only from one of the Muppet movies or is it from all of the works in which he appears?)

  • What is the ratio of quoted vs. non-quoted work in the new piece?

  • How distinctive is the quoted work? (i.e. quoting someone who has rather generic quotes is not as likely to be a big deal)

The issue you have to think about is whether or not your work is a derivative of the earlier work. You can be inspired by another work, but sometimes whether that falls into a derivative is a tricky question.