Two questions: Copyright and Human Demolition

I read the work the Demolished Man several years ago.

One of the key points in the book is Demolition, which is a punishment which erases the brain of the convicted party. They must learn to read and write again, and form an entirely new personality.

I thought of this independently several years back (it’s fairly obvious when you think about it), and I was wondering:

1)If I wrote a book featuring this process, but not calling it demolition, would that violate copyright?

2)If I wrote a book featuring this process, but calling it demolition, would that violate copyright?

Assume that it is central to the plot.

  1. Are we anywhere close to being able to do this?
  1. No. You can’t copyright an idea.

  2. Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t be sued over it. You might win in the end, but why run the risk when it would be trivial to create your own name for the process?

  3. We can do that right now. It’s easy to completely wipe someone’s memories.

Oh … but they have to still be alive afterwards?

That’s quite a bit harder. :wink:

No … we have no idea how to do that.

3: I’m not sure if we are aware of any mechanism now to wipe out existing memories without damaging the ability to form new ones. However, there are chemicals known that can destroy a person’s ability to form new memories (Anterograde amnesia), which is very sad. See the curious case of Clive Wearing, whose short term memory only lasts 20-30 seconds and is constantly experiencing the feeling of “waking up” for the first time.

Sorry this doesn’t help with your premise, though… preserving past memories and destroying new ones seems like exactly the opposite of what you’d want to do to a criminal (unless your society wanted a particularly vengeful punishment).

Neither would violate copyright. You can call mechanical men “robots” without violating the copyright (even before the copyright on R.U.R. lapsed). You can even use “jaunte” for teleportation if you want. It wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge Bester somehow, but that’s not necessary.

I am not a copyright expert by any stretch of the imagination, but my understanding is that you could be sued for this.

When the Dungeons and Dragons game came out, it featured a lot of stuff borrowed from Tolkien, such as elves and hobbits and such. The Tolkien estate sued TSR (the guys that made Dungeons and Dragons) and forced them to change a few things. For example, the TSR hobbit was renamed the halfling, and the lore about them was changed so that they weren’t a direct copy of Tolkien’s hobbits. TSR was also forced to rename ents. They were allowed to keep elves and other names because JRR Tolkien himself borrowed those from existing legends.

If you could prove that “demolition” was used to describe this concept prior to Demolished Man then you’d be fine. If not, then it seems to me that you’d be in exactly the same position legally. Based on the TSR case, I’d say you’d be fine if with the same concept, if you just changed the name and changed some of the details.

Babylon 5 had an episode in which this very concept was used- capital punishment was replaced by erasing the convicted’s personality and implanting a generic new one. The same concept was used in the 1957 novel Rogue in Space by Fredric Brown. So the concept is not copyrightable at all.

[engineer], that’s not an analagous situation. Early D&D basically lifted Tolkein’s entire milleau lock stock and barrel, including Tolkein-created races of the hobbits and orcs as well as his non-traditional conception of elves. It was clearly an attempt to create a game set in Middle Earth, they just didn’t call it that. Sharing a single, non-unique concept, even a central one, is by no means the same level of copying.


The thing to understand about copyright is it is never black & white, well almost never.

Anyone can sue anyone for anything it doesn’t mean you’ll win.

There really are only so many ideas out there. Then they start repeating.

An example from the Simpsons is Lisa tells a story about the Seven Dwarfs, and immediately a lawyer from Disney shows up and threatens a lawsuit. Lisa replies “you can’t copyright fairytales, they belong to everyone.” Well she’s mostly correct.

Snow White isn’t subject to copyright, but Disney’s version is subject to copyright as are the Dwarves names. The original fairytale didn’t name the dwarves, so you couldn’t use those name, but you could give them new names and personalities.

Now how does one decided how much of an idea you can take before it stops being an original work and starts being an infringment of copyright?
That is the problem, you can’t always tell, till you publish the work and someone sues you.

So who decides what IS and what ISN’T a violation? A judge does, and this is why copyright can be so “iffy.” One judge can decide it one way and another will decide it another way.

Also remember copyright needs to be enforced by the owner as well.

A classic example of this is the Honeymooners versus *the Flintstones

I read a bio of Jackie Gleason and in it he says he was often asked why he allowed the Flintstones to go on when it was such a blatant violation of his work, the Honeymooners

He replied that he couldn’t do much except sue and have the show taken off the air. He then explains he’d be known as the man who killed Fred Flintstone and he’d have every child and their parents hate him. And then they wouldn’t watch HIS show.

So as you can see copyright is not always as cut and dry thing, even in seemingly cut and dry cases

Obligatory Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reference.

Uh… at best he implies that he thinks he could have done so. However, it’s extremely unlikely that he would have succeeded. The Flintstones was at best/worst a parody which re-used none of the names or identities of the characters IIRC. That would have been a very implausible lawsuit and would have wasted money.

Of course, Lisa Simpson could get away with it because it was a parody; in fact, the whole joke was that DIsney lawyers show up. IIRC, Disney created the number, 7, and the names.

If you use the same title, the question is - how likely is it that the public will confuse the two works? If some Joe Schmoe wrote “The glowing” 20 years ago and sold 50 copies of the book; and I write a totally different story with the same title - no. If I change my name to Sam King, and produce ne books The Stand and The Shining (By S. King) I might lose the lawsuit.

Charles Dickens spent a lot of his fortune chasing fly-by-night crooks who would publish his works (especially Christmas Carol). One had the temerity to alter the story a bit, then claimed in court he had “improved” it so it was a different work. Dickens won, but the shops of course closed up and he couldn’t collect on his damages.

Depends how likely it looks that you stole the whole story (or a part). Or that you stole soemthing like one of their characters. Basically, if you did, you are using their creative talent to make yourself rich, and possibly cheapening their work too.

I was at a discussion at a convention once where Larry Niven was complaining about Kzinti fan porn. He said that first of all, most of it was badly written and stupid plots (in porn? shocking!) but also was illogical science. He pointed out that giant cats who get into fights where big claws and teeth are use - don’t have large, swinging dangly equipment. It’s a simple matter of evolution.

I think copyright has been stretched beyond all reason. It used to be said that you cannot copyright an idea, only their expression. Then came the suit over “The Wind Done Gone”, an entirely different take (from the slave’s point of view of “Gone with the Wind”). However the suit lost, so maybe all is well.

I have always been told you cannot copyright a title. Once I saw two books with the identical title sitting side by side on a bookstore shelf. The title was “Sideshow” and one was by Sherri Tepper and the other one was by someone else whose name also began with a “T”. When I pointed this out to the bookstore owner, he was surprised, but felt is was no big deal.

If you could copyright titles, what would you call the other 999 books named “Calculus”?

Don Kingsbury wrote a book, “Psychohistorical Crisis” that obviously took place in the universe of Asimov’s Foundation, but he changed all the names of the planets and the peoples. He told me that he did so to avoid copyright issues.

So, to address the second point - inducing total amnesia is not possible?

In addition, Gleason was in the first television version of The Life of Riley, a situation comedy about a working-class put-upon father with a wacky neighbor that had previously been done on radio and as a movie. It’s clearly the progenitor for The Honeymooners. Gleason had nothing to do with creating that show, which was done by well-established Hollywood writer Irving Brecher.

The suit would have laughed out of court.

This is why there are so few copyright suits from legitimate sources. Ideas aren’t copyrightable in the first place and few ideas are truly original. Most presentations are similar to some show from some time in the past, usually far before the one that people think is the original.

As for Gleason suing, the quote does not come from a Gleason biography but from The Flintstones: A Modern Stone Age Phenomenon by T. R. Adams. I’ll bet that Markxxx has never read a Gleason biography, but has read the Wikipedia entry on *The Honeymooners *without bothering to check the footnotes.

Maybe, but that’s way after the fact. I have my doubts.

Or as the TV Tropes page entitled Older Than Dirt says while quoting H.L. Mencken:

I’ve read a lot of movie history and I don’t remember any period in which lots of copyright suits ever were a feature of the industry. It may have happened early on, but once the studios gained power they pretty much had a gentlemen’s agreement not to sue one another for such fripperies.

  1. No, unless you copied material from the source without permission.

  2. Unlikely, but there’s an outside chance. It would depend on several factors, including but not limited to (a) how much the other author felt inclined to kick up a fuss about it; (b) the extent to which your work was original, creative intellectual property versus the extent to which it relied on the antecedent work; and © the extent to which a reasonable person might think you were infringing on the commercial interests of the other author. All in all, you might want to play it safe and put a little more distance between your work and his.

  3. Not my area, but not so far as I know.

The closest thing I have heard to the OP’s premise is the case ofjazz guitarist Pat Martino. Mr. Martino underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm.

That sounds like a line out of a sci-fi novel if I’ve ever heard one.

Mr. Martino’s ability to form new memories was apparently not affected.

However, one’s personality is not entirely dependent on their set of memories at a given point in time. Wiping out memories is not equivalent to wiping out one’s entire personality. A personality is a very complex thing, and “nature vs. nurture” debates still rage on as research reveals more all the time about the issue.

Mr. Martino worked very hard to redevelop his ability to play the guitar. And listening to his recordings before and after the surgery, it is unmistakably the same player. So there is something in his style of playing that comes from more than memories.

How *similar *is the described process itself? “Blackboxing” it so that there’s no real description nor an explanation beyond technobabbly handwaving, may help. One form or another of “mind wipe” has been mentioned in one way or another by a small army’s worth of writers for a century, so part of the argument would be how likely is it that you’d come up with many of the same story elements without having lifted them from the other author.