Self-publishing and copyright?

I’ve always been an avid reader and have on occasion dabbled in writing, although I realise I’m very far from being an author I’ve uploaded a few short stories online and they’ve had a generally good reception. I have had the idea of self-publishing suggested and it sounds interesting, I have no illusions that I would make money at it but it would be nice to have my name in print* (vanity press? yes) and it might reach a wider audience, personal enjoyment in writing and the pleasure of being told someone else likes my work are really the only reasons I’m considering it.

However one of my favourite stories is set in the ‘Firefox’ story universe created by Craig Thomas, a re-imagining where the program behind the titular aircraft was restarted and shenanigans ensue. I would really hate to leave it out but I wouldn’t even know how to begin asking for permission from the Thomas estate (he died in 2011).

Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance :slight_smile:

btw in case anyone is wondering my stuff is mostly science-fiction short-stories, sometimes crossed with aviation, but its pretty eclectic, basically its what I would like to read rather than any pretensions at high-art. I will say though that I do carefully proof-read my work as there is little that can take you out of even the best story quicker than obvious spelling, grammar and formatting errors. Naturally there will now be such errors all over this post but c’est la vie…

*I’m already published in an academic context but where’s the fun in that? :wink:

It seems to me that you have four options:

Seek permission
Probably not easy. Authors’ attitudes towards fan-fiction vary considerably; from “Wow, that’s great!” to “You’ll be hearing from my lawyers!” My impression, I’m afraid, is that literary estates tend towards the latter (partly because they often are the lawyers). Not that it would be impossible, but people who make a career dealing with IP rights have found themselves unable to cut a deal before now. You never know, though, and an email to sound them out costs nothing.

Publish and be damned
They’ll probably never find out; and if they do, what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t know myself. You should ask a lawyer (who’ll tell you not to do it).

Leave it out
I know it’s hard, but it may simply not be worth the trouble. Who was it who said “kill your darlings”*

Can you rewrite the story to remove the copyrighted elements? A high-tech plane isn’t an original concept, after all. And there’s ample precedent (ask E L James). If what’s good about the story is your own writing, you might well make it better. Conversely, if it only works because of content that Thomas created, you’re better off leaving it out anyway.

Best of luck, whatever you decide. I hope it does well.

  • Stephen King, William Faulkner — lots of people. It’s popular advice, apparently.

It actually sprang from an idle thought when I came across a picture of an SR-71 spyplane on the internet, “I wonder what would happen if a Blackbird met the Firefox…” ping

One of those rare moments of epiphany and I’d hate to give it up, but you’re right it would work almost as well with a generic superplane but would require quite a bit extra backstory to explain the setup, which I guess is how a short story becomes a novel.

Thank you, and thanks for all the advice (snipped to spare the SD hamsters only) I’ll have a think about it!

I wouldn’t chance doing it without permission. Contact the estate, the worst they can do is say no.

Of course — or a novella, or just a slightly longer short story. It’s yours to tell: let it be what it is.

And come on, man: “almost as well”? Better! It’s not a “generic” superplane, it’s your superplane! It doesn’t have to conform to a novel written forty years ago, it can be whatever suits the story best. The characters can be whoever you want — they’ve never existed before. Be free!

Feel free to ignore any advice. I know nothing of any value, and I’m notoriously profligate with the creativity of others.

I’d say go with your own superplane. The back story could make for a more interesting tale. And it is not like there is a massive Firefox fandom you could leverage for sales.
Also, you would have the liberty of adjusting the characteristics of your plane to make a better story, and not be tied down to what was described in an old novel.

Go for it, I say.

"I’m a publishing house copyright lawyer and I’m really bored today. What on earth can I do to pass the time but justify my ludicrous hourly fee?

I know! I’ll google the names of some of our roster of authors and their past titles and see who’s been ripping us off blind. Then I will be a hero and Pam the receptionist will love me." [sorry, watching Office reruns]

I think you will be found out, and you will be damned.

If you publish it as a pure vanity project and never sell it, even if someone found out, it’s doubtful they’d go to any trouble for real legal compensation. For the most part, even fan creators who get in trouble for selling things usually just get a “Cease and desist” letter and are left alone upon ceasing and desisting whatever the lawyers told them to knock off. Lawsuits are pretty rare in fan projects, when all they have to do is send a message saying, “You know who we are. Quit it before we have to spend real money on you.”

But if you actually want to go somewhere past having something fun and solid to hand friends and family (and there’s nothing wrong with that, either) writing an original plane and changing up the story might actually be fun! It’ll give you an excuse to work on the story even more, and it’s obvious you enjoy it. :slight_smile: And if you do publish, you at least could put it on Amazon or shop the story around a little as an experiment without being hounded by “C&D” letters.

One sci-fi author I know wrote and published commercially a story that took place in a universe that was quite obviously Asimov’s Foundation. He simply changed all the names. The “Trantor” planet, for example, he renamed “Splendid Wisdom”. How’s that for the name of a planet? IIRC, he never gave a name to the psychohistorian at the center of Asimov’s story (whose name I will omit mentioning), just called him the Philosopher. He told me he did this to avoid copyright issues and presumably his publisher’s lawyers agreed.

It was an excellent story, BTW, called Psychohistorical Crisis.

You win the thread, sir! :smiley:

I guess he didn’t want things to get too Hari. It’s Seldon a good idea to tempt fate.

Thanks for the advice everyone, and yes thinking about it today coming up with an original design for the plane would be a lot of fun, and save a lot of potential complications! :slight_smile: