Pseudonym Legal Question

(I am not soliciting for free legal advice, but asking for generalities and/or links to appropriate guiding cases and legislation)

Say for argument sake that someone has written a book. And say for argument sake that they have found a publisher that wants to publish this book, and thinks it will be a runaway hit (yeah, right). Now say that this person wants to publish under a pseudonym that also happens to be the name of a character in another author’s series of books - oh, for a wild example, “Una Persson”, the character from Michael Moorcock’s books.

Would a person be legally prevented from publishing under that name in the United States? Or would they be required to pay a royalty or fee, or otherwise get written permission - and if so, to who?

Assume as well that the content of the book is scientific, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Moorcock’s works, and that no character of “Una Persson” appears in the book - it’s only the publishing name.

Any thoughts? Guidance? Surely this has been done before, I have to think…but for some reason I can’t think of examples that involve non-public domain characters.

Here are some generalities/guesses.

You see the problem. The author’s character’s name is copywritten property of the author, and if you want to try to use it to make money for yourself, you owe it to that guy to get his permission, morally and legally.

The cost and conditions of using the name would be a matter between the author and the person wanting to use the name. The author might say Hell yeah, go with it, at which point you’d want something in writing. Or there could be royalties involved.

Quote: Would a person be legally prevented from publishing under that name in the United States? Quote

I don’t think so. Publishers might choose to not publish a book that has issues with copyrights. But there’s no law preventing you from using the name. You’d just be liable for civil damages.

Quote: If the content of the book is scientific, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Moorcock’s works, and that no character of “Una Persson” appears in the book - it’s only the publishing name.—Quote

Legally, that makes it worse. You get some free speech protection when you are commenting on public persons or charcters for education or satire, etc. But if you’re just stealing the name because you wish YOU had thought of it. Then you’re just using another’s idea.

On the other hand, if the scientific book will in no way impinge on or dilute the author’s trademark, then it is much mre likely that the author will give permission at a low cost.

Just some general thoughts.

May you find that viable alternative that doesn’t involve copyright infringement.
And get the publisher to pony up some attorney’s fees for you all.

Copyrighted. The right to make a copy, not writing a copy out.

What if your real name is that of a character from a book? Would that have any effect? (Like, your last name really is Persson, and your parents named you Una because they were fans of the books?)

One could approach author #1 and explain how much she loved his work, and how she wanted to use a character’s name as a pseudonym, and did he mind?

Couldn’t hurt, might work.

On a related note, George Lucas sucessfully sued Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew for trademark infringement for using “Luke Skyywalker” as his stage and label name.

It may be the trademarked property of the author, but a name alone can never be copyrighted.

AFAIK actor & writer Mike Myers never had any issues from the Halloween movies.

And there was that ornitologist who wrote under the name James Bond, borrowed from Ian Fleming’s books.
Seriously, though,
Francoise Sagan was named after a character in Proust, apparently.

We have a Ronald McDonald living in our town. What if he writes a book?

I am sure I was the only person in the theater when I saw Die Another Day who got the joke when Pierce Brosnan was shown thumbing through Bond’s Birds of the West Indies when he first arrived in Jamaica. :smiley:

Likely nothing, so long as his book has nothing to do with hamburgers and fast food. What if some author who knows nothing of me writes a book about a fictional serial killer named “Robert Golaszewski”, my real name? As uncommon as this name is, I have discovered I am not the only “Robert Golaszewski” on this planet. AFAIK, I have no legal recourse if this was a total coincidence.

Didn’t Philip Jose Farmer write Venus on the Half Shell under the name Kilgore Trout? Did he need Vonnegut’s permission?

I don’t know if he needed it or not.

But he obtained it. Although, apparently, Vonnegut came to regret the decision, for some reason.

Excerpts from an article on the history of the Venus on the Half Shell brouhaha.

Ancestors of Alvin Smith JOHNSON & Sofe Christena WASDEN


      Sex: F

Individual Information

    Christening: 23 Nov 1656 - Sonarp, Of Broby, Krnstad, Sweden 1
Cause of Death:

Hm. The answer is unclear. I do know that according to the US Patent and Trademark office, “Una Persson” is not Trademarked in any manner. I also know it’s a real Swedish name (I have met online people who thought I might be Swedish based on my screen name, who said they had one or more relatives with my screen name). Squink seems to have just posted, while I was typing this, evidence that the name existed in real life several centuries back.

So it’s entirely unclear whether or not I need permission. I have searched and read through all US Copyright Law I have access to, and have found nothing, not one single sentence, that says a person cannot write under a pen name that happens to be the same as a fictional character, unless said character is Trademarked, and then it’s still up to a court to decide if it is infringement. In fact, I can also find no evidence at all that a single name of a fictional character is protected by copyright.

Anyone else able to find anything definite? For that matter, here’s something to reflect upon - there are many, many people on the SDMB and other forums who have names of characters from copyrighted works - or even names of the authors of said works (take “Derleth” for example). By creating content on the SDMB, writing works on journals and personal web spaces, and other creative activities many people are using these screen names to create new copyrighted works. One must wonder what the legalities are.

I don’t know if this will help you or not but…

From it may be worth reading.

Sorry but I don’t have anything definitive for the OP. (Just wild conjecture, but I’ll pass. The Luke Skywalker example caused my conjecture to be sidelined.)

Regarding Peter Morris’s example about James Bond, I believe that the ornithologist came first and Ian Fleming picked the name from him. See here, about two thirds of the way down, under the heading ‘Basic Bird Facts.’ And thus the joke as presented in the movie.

I know that Marvel trademarked the name of all their characters as part of the Jack Kirby brouhaha. Ths implies that Marvel’s lawyers, at least, recognized that that copyright did not protect rights to use of the names.

It appears to me that there is some confusion going on here.

For something to be subject of copyright, it must be an “original work of authorship”. A mere name in itself doesn’t qualify, as the U.S. Copyright Office explicitly states (admittedly it is not clear whether they mean all names, or only ‘real’ names).

A name can be the subject of a trade mark, though.

Furthermore, a character (that is, the name and the ‘personality’ and history in the story) might be subject to copyright. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mere use of that name is copyright infringment on the character. It might be infringment if you write a new story with that same character (like in fan fiction, but that is AFAIK still an uncertain question).

Finally there may be a cause in common law, such as unfair competition.

For those interested, there is an article specifically on the protection of fictional characters.

Your link seems to have expired.

Yes, the ornithologist came first. (I assumed that Peter Morris knew this, and was joking. ) Fleming was living in Jamaica while writing the first Bond book and took the name from Bond’s field guide. (It’s just as well that he didn’t chance upon a bird guide by Bond’s colleague at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee.)

From here