What can you use and not violate any copyright laws in your novel?

I am getting ready to self-publish a novel to Kindle's Direct Publishing, and I just wanted to absolutely clear up a few things before I did that regarding copyright issues. I have edited my manuscript and have circled all of these "red flags" and am prepared to change them if need be, but if I could leave them in, that would be better.

I know you cannot use lines/direct quotes from a song, book, movie, etc. unless said items are in the public domain (so 1923 and before). However, here's a few things that I am sketchy on for what exactly is allowed and what isn't:

1. Can you use the names of famous people in your novel? For example, can I say my character is reading a book by Stephen King? Or watching the Dr. Phil Show? Or can I say that my character absolutely hates Angelina Jolie's acting?

2. Can I use the name and song title of someone and a movie title? For example, can I say my character is listening to Pink's "Try" on the radio? Or watching "Friday the 13th"?

3. Can I use the title of a book not in the public domain? For example, can I say my character is reading the children's book "Babar" to her kid? Furthermore, can I talk about an analytical interpretation of the book that I learned in college? (This is coming from an experience and an inside joke between me and friends from one of our college English courses where we were learning how to critically analyze literature using different methods such as historical context, psychoanalytical perspectives, colonialism, feminism, etc. Our professor said that the children's book "Babar" was a representation of the French colonization of West Africa in the 1700s, so am I allowed to put that in my novel and not have it violate any copyright laws?)

4. Can I use the name of a sports team? For example, can I say that one of my characters is a professional basketball player for the L.A. Lakers? Or liken someone's actions as being that of a jockey at the Kentucky Derby?

5. Can I use the name of a real newspaper? For example, can I say that one of my characters works for the L.A. Times?

6. Can I use the names of historical people? For example, Jack the Ripper? The Black Dahlia? Hitler?

7. Can I make one of my characters a real person from history? For example, say this was a vampire novel and I wanted to make one of my main character vampires a real person from history. This person is not exceedingly well known, he is a Highwayman from the 1600s who was executed and buried in Covent Garden, but he has been the subject of several famous artists and paintings. So can I use his real name, or do I have to change the name?

8. Can I use the brand name of a motorcycle and car? For example, can I say that one of my characters rides a Diavel Dark by Ducati, or drives a Honda Prius? Or my character feels like they got run-over by a Mack Truck?

9. Can I use brand names of alcohol, food, etc.? For example, can I say my character is drinking a Budweiser? Or eating a Big Mac from McDonald's?

10. Can I use the real name of a restaurant and it's famous chef? For example, can I say that my characters are eating at Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse restaurant CUT?

11. Can I use an author's name and book and talk about events that happened due to the book? For example, can I say that John Polidori's short story "The Vampyre" caused a sensation in the early 1800s and can I use the names of his characters and facts from the story to further exemplify the behavior of the people at that time (here is the line from my novel: "Polidori's story offered no amount of detail on the death of the young female, and while Abigail and every other reader had naturally assumed that Lord Ruthven had sex with Aubrey's sister before draining her dry, they had more than likely believed it was a romantic, consensual night of passion as opposed to an evil act of violation.")?

12. Can I use an offhanded reference to a well known movie/book? For example, can my character say something like, "Much in the way of Obi Wan's droid trick."? Or liken a character to Renfield from "Dracula"?

13. Can I use the name of a video game? For example, can I say that my character plays World of Warcraft and is engrossed in the latest version and is intrigued by playing as a giant panda?

I know this sounds tedious and that I really don't know what I'm doing, but I am just merely wanting to cover my butt and not end up getting sued and I am quadruple checking my options and this is my last stop. So please, no snarky comments, just answer my questions honestly and accurately (and if you could number your responses to fit with my numbering, that would be great too)! I appreciate any and all help, so thank you in advance!



In response to S.K., yes I am we'll read enough to understand that the questions I pose sound ridiculous and like I'm not ready to publish. I have a BA degree in English and writing (I specialized in teaching English, not publishing... publishing questions like these aren't answered in writing classes unless you're specifically taking a publishing class, which I didn't l).

I know published books have all the stuff I've mentioned in this question (I read an average of 10 books a month); however, those authors are covered by a publishing company with lawyers and editors who have gone through the manuscript and made sure what they've said isn't going to violate any copyright laws. I don't have that luxury and I don't have the $2,000+ to hire an independent copyright editor to go through my manuscript either.

The legal sites and writing sites I found have all said that I can use ALL the stuff that I asked about on here, but like I originally sai

Update 2:

(for some reason the rest of my additional details got cut off, so I'm just finishing that thought)...

The legal sites and writing sites I found have all said that I can use ALL the stuff that I asked about on here, but like I originally said, I'm just trying to cover my own butt. I was hoping that maybe someone else out there who has self-published would see my question and answer it and stuff like that before I just went ahead and published. I don't mind changing a few things, like creating my own newspaper company name for the character to work at, or making up a sports team for the other character to play for, and things like that. But changing the names of cars, motorcycles, etc. is just tedious and annoying, and unless I use the actual names of the car and the motorcycle, the scene won't work. Like, my guy HAS a ride a Ducati because it speaks to his nature and my other character HAS to drive a Honda Prius. If I had to take out those names, the scene wouldn&

2 Answers

  • 7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    -1. If you're really worried about being sued, you need to consult a lawyer who specialises in intellectual property law, not a group of pseudonymous strangers on the Internet.

    0. If you're self-publishing, it's highly unlikely that your book will do well enough to come to the attention of any company or living person that you mention. If it does, they might well decide that you're not rich enough to be worth suing - and if they do sue, they have the Streisand Effect to consider.

    1. Yes, yes, yes and maybe. You can publish whatever you like about a living person, but if you publish something they don't like, they might sue you for defamation. Defamation cases are pretty difficult for famous people to win, but that doesn't stop some of them trying.

    2. Yes, yes and yes.

    3. Yes, yes and yes.

    4. Yes, yes and yes.

    5. Yes, but you'd better check that there isn't a real journalist with the same name as your character. You probably have to be careful about representing any official opinions or political views that the paper has. It might be safer to make up a newspaper, or not give the name of it.

    6. You can say whatever you like about dead people, as they can't sue.

    7. See 6.

    8. Yes, but be careful not to state or imply that any of them are unsafe or unreliable.

    9. As with 8, yes, but don't state or imply that the brand is unpleasant to eat or liable to make you sick.

    10. See 9.

    11. Yes.

    12. Yes.

    13. Yes.

    14. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. For entertainment purposes only. Void where prohibited. Contents may settle in transit. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

    EDIT: I think you might be overestimating the power of brand names. If I read that a character rides a Ducati, I know it's a make of motorbike, but beyond that, it says nothing to me. I don't know what sort of characteristics a Ducati owner is supposed to have, as opposed to someone who owns a Yamaha or a Harley Davidson.

    I think Toyota would have a few things to say about Honda selling a car called "Prius" ;-) I might assume that someone who drives one of those cares more about the environment than your average car driver. Or maybe he just likes the tax incentives.

    Don't *tell* me the character's personality by namechecking the brands he uses. *Show* me his personality by his words and deeds.

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  • S.K.
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Every single one of those is "yes, you can." For products, you cannot disparage--you don't have your character dine at Wolfgang Puck's, eat a Big Mac, or down a Bud, then say it tasted bad, or get sick from it. But you don't have to praise it, either. Neutral is fine.

    Your questions make me wonder if you're wide-enough read to be truly ready to publish. If you read popular fiction, you'll see every one of these items.

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