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Adaptation, Appropriation, Integration of Titles by Other Authors... -?-

-K2-

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Struck with an idea for a novelette/novella, I instantly stumbled on a perfect title (which I'll get to in a moment). That got me to thinking about some lines within a chapter I'm debating using in a work in process. Each case urges me to ask about the ethics, good/poor form and so on, of mentioning other works in our manuscripts ( ? ).

In the latter work, in a single paragraph various well known dystopian novels are mentioned by name (1984, F451, Brave NW, etc.), and that a character used the warnings from them, instead as 'to do manuals.' Is that right/wrong, okay/not, acceptable/not, legal/not?

What inspired this question is a new idea I have where a particular title jumped out at me being 'so perfect' for the theme of the story that I know I'll struggle to find its peer. Without disclosing the plot, the title would be 'Ozymandias ************.' Clearly the issue there is the word Ozymandias (though granted a name, yet we all know the poem by Shelley)... Again, same question: Is that right/wrong, okay/not, acceptable/not, legal/not?

Thanks for your educated input!

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The Judge

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There's no copyright in titles or names, but occasionally some names etc are trademarked (eg "Discworld" I think), so you might need to check that for more modern works, but I'm pretty sure the ones you mention are OK. Brave New World is itself a quote from Shakespeare, of course, so definitely no issues there.

I don't see anything unethicial or poor form in referencing the works and having a character learn lessons from them. Quoting at length from the works is a different issue, as that is potentially breach of copyright -- the odd sentence here and there should be OK, but always err on the safe side, or paraphrase. If the authors of any of the works are still alive, be careful also of defamation -- it's OK for a character to say Author A is a prat, but any implication he was, say, a Nazi or Communist spy, or a paedophile, and even if it's a character saying it, there are dangers.

As for Ozymandias, although it's best known for Shelley's poem, as you say it was the Greek name of a real person, so again no issues with using it, either of taste or legality. I imagine it's been used hundreds of times over the years.

Basically, yes acceptable to use.
 

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Thanks for your quick response @The Judge ; that takes a weight off knowing what is ethically acceptable (and as a plus, leans to my favor).

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farntfar

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As far as book titles are concerned lines from other works are of course very commonly used. Shakespeare and biblical quotations especially, and lines from poems. (For whom the bell tolls etc)

Themes even complete stories are reused, sometimes, if the setting is changed.
The fordibben planet etc.

I'd be surprised if the Ozymandias "Look on my works yea mighty and despair" bit hadn't been used before already. Lovecraft? And the name.The Watchmen?
 

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And in a line from the last Alien movie @farntfar ; Though I didn't remember it till now, I do have a line from that last work of mine that leads-off a chapter. The chapter is about the collapse of the infrastructure, government, nation, environment, etc.. Here's the rough version:
Though Shelley described it most eloquently in Ozymandias; the Mad Clown had surpassed that ruler’s vanity a thousandfold. Where the self-proclaimed "king of kings" works had been reduced to sand; the Mad Clown had left the world in ruins. Not just the cities, his nation or all civilization… yet the entire planet itself.
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Teresa Edgerton

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I'm sure that everything Shelley wrote is in the public domain (by a couple of centuries, almost), so you could even quote him directly and there would be no problem.
 

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I'm sure that everything Shelley wrote is in the public domain (by a couple of centuries, almost), so you could even quote him directly and there would be no problem.
Thanks for responding! I suppose, however, I'm not as concerned about plagiarism or copyrights as I am doing something unethical or in bad taste.

In brief, the last president of the United States, being a dimwit, decides that his son's junior high reading list is essentially a set of manuals outlining how to control the populous and deal with other issues. To that end, though not verbatim, he applies aspects of each to various problems regarding control... Yes, it is meant to be absurd, ridiculous to the n'th degree.

That said, it's bluntly name dropping for one. More so, in a very round-about-way, I guess you could even say that I'm incorporating those entire works... ‘Fahrenheit-451, The Clonus Horror, The Island, Logan’s Run, Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, Brave New World Revisited, Make Room! Make Room! (Soylent Green), and Shelley's Ozimandias... Into my work simply by noting their titles. IOW, to actually understand the gravity of what is being done, you would need to have a fair exposure/understanding of those works. If so, it expands background into 'my story' without adding the text. If not, then you'll still understand what the Mad Clown does, it just won't bear the same weight.

In the end, I realize all of that, so I'm not innocent to the result... Granted, you could argue that it promotes interest in those works... but, that's not the goal and simply makes for a lame excuse.

I however would rather not do something that is in poor taste... and not knowing author etiquette, felt it would be wise to ask.

Thanks again,

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Teresa Edgerton

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Well, I hope you feel reassured that there is nothing unethical or in bad taste about mentioning or quoting works whose copyright has lapsed. Especially if something is quite old, it is part of our shared cultural heritage and, yes, it will enrich the experience for readers who know the work (that's sort of the whole point of cultural literacy), but if they don't know it, your mentioning it may encourage some to seek out the book or poem. It's trickier when the copyright is still running. Even if the author is dead, their heirs might be touchy.

There are no rules in writing against name-dropping. Although if you mention a great many books a reader is unfamiliar with or has not heard of, they may get annoyed. It's like using too many unfamiliar words. ("Too many" being quite subjective, of course, but since writing is about communicating if one leaves too many readers too far behind they are unlikely to keep reading.) It's a matter of striking the right balance, which is hard, because even the books we think that everyone knows, even the books we think that every SFF fan (or other sub-group of readers) knows, it can turn out that quite a lot of them don't.
 

Harpo

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Dunno about book copyright, but in music you can't copyright titles. Think how many "Greatest Hits" albums there are. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" came after another album of the same title.
 

dannymcg

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Dunno about book copyright, but in music you can't copyright titles. Think how many "Greatest Hits" albums there are. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" came after another album of the same title.
Did Pink Floyd not get around the title issue by putting 'The' at the front?
The Dark Side of the Moon.

Medicine Head did their DSOTM without it a year earlier
 

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Nice lead-in @dannymcg ; That brings up a second question...

So, I have a short story that I intended on publishing on a forum that uses two pieces of music in it. The first was Schubert's 'Serenade,' the second, Goin out West by 'Tom Waits.' Obviously there would be no issue with the first, yet, what about mentioning the second and the performer's name for the second?



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chrispenycate

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Is this music mentioned on the fly, like the book titles, or actually available as audio files? Because in music, it's not just composers who have rights, but editors, music publishers, interpreters - seems like half the population of the country feel that they are owed something on the recording. Sometimes even the studio accepts working cheap in exchange for future interests. And lawyers, obviously. So the fact that the composer is comfortably out of the way doesn't guarantee that the piece is free of all entanglements.
 

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Chris has beaten me to it. If the stories simply refer to the music and artists, that's fine. If they incorporate the music ie so it's played, you've presumably taken the recordings from somewhere, and using them would breach recording rights unless you had permission. Quoting lyrics from a song without consent -- even, apparently, small extracts of a line or two -- would also be in breach of copyright (depending when the lyrics were written, of course).

Quite whether anyone who has the rights would (a) discover what you've done and (b) bother doing anything about it is another issue, of course, but it's up to you (and the forum itself) whether you want to run the risk.
 

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@chrispenycate & @The Judge ; My intention was to mention the song title and 'composer / performer.' With Schubert it's a non issue as are the song titles... However, mentioning the name 'Tom Waits' is what concerned me. Past that, beyond some prose describing the musical differences, nothing.

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I'm sure that everything Shelley wrote is in the public domain (by a couple of centuries, almost), so you could even quote him directly and there would be no problem.
So, keeping in mind the what is ethically appropriate, good vs. bad form, I have a question regarding actually including the poem by Shelley.

In my latest project (which uses the name Ozymandias in the title), we read nothing regarding it until the very last few paragraphs (last 3). In that scene, the deuteragonist whispers an ancient 'song' to the protagonist. We don't hear it, they both smile and she goes her way. The next to last line in the text finds the protagonist smiling, understanding the 'song' and as the d'ist sails off the p'ist softly moans and says the title of the 'song' as the last line: "Mmm... Ozymandias."

Okay, so I don't 'think' I've breached any standard of etiquette up to that point be it with the title or that line... But, knowing (sadly) that not everyone knows the poem, would it be poor form on an appendix page (likely the last) to add the poem 'exactly' and make firm note of Shelley's credit?

Thanks for your input!

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Venusian Broon

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Okay, so I don't 'think' I've breached any standard of etiquette up to that point be it with the title or that line... But, knowing (sadly) that not everyone knows the poem, would it be poor form on an appendix page (likely the last) to add the poem 'exactly' and make firm note of Shelley's credit?

Thanks for your input!

K2
Iain M Banks actually titled a book using a character from T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. And as far as I can remember he doesn't note anything about T.S. Eliot in the book. Other books have given one-off lines that have made me go and research and find the works that they are toying with, and they definitely didn't do what you are proposing.

You don't need to attribute anything I feel, as it's definitely not in copyright. If I didn't understand the reference I will get on the 'puter and interweb and search. I could then perhaps read it there, or search out his work in a book store. (Or perhaps get confused and buy Watchmen, but hey, that's pretty good too.)

In fact I'd prefer that it was kept mysterious and you just gave me a few clues rather than laying it all out.

So why make this appendix at all.

I think if you want to credit Shelley, make a podcast or blog post about it and discuss it in depth outside this. You don't need to be a nanny in your fiction, it can be off-putting to readers (like me :)). Over-explaining your motives can really kill the vibe.

Disclaimer, I'm not a fan of appendices in fiction. I rarely read them. They irk me.
 

The Judge

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It wouldn't be poor form, but I'm with VB, I see no reason to spoon-feed your readership in this way. If they get the reference, they won't need the explanation, and they'll be patting themselves on the back that they got it; if they didn't get the reference, they can look it up and educate themselves. What you might do instead, though, is thank Shelley somewhere, perhaps in your acknowledgements, for giving you the title and theme. That would satisfy your wish to give credit where it's due, and give those who don't get the reference a further clue in looking it up.

By the way, I'm not an appendices-loather as VB appears to be, and I actually like the historical notes in historical fiction (though CJ Sansom's latest effort might well have been designed to cure me of that...) but I'd also question the need for one if all you're doing is explaining things.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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If they get the reference, they won't need the explanation, and they'll be patting themselves on the back that they got it; if they didn't get the reference, they can look it up and educate themselves. What you might do instead, though, is thank Shelley somewhere, perhaps in your acknowledgements, for giving you the title and theme. That would satisfy your wish to give credit where it's due, and give those who don't get the reference a further clue in looking it up.
I think that would be the best solution. Although just sticking the poem at the end of the book could work, too. No need for an appendix just for a poem. It would be like an epigraph, except at the end rather than the beginning.
 
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