Here are a few more thoughts on the question of copyright in characters, which I discussed last week. These extra thoughts are prompted by C.E. Petit, Esq., author of the Scrivener's Error blog, who kindly wrote to me afterwards.
Fortunately, I am not tempted to write anything involving anyone else's characters. I have done this in the past -- see Scrooge and the Widow of Pewsey, written under the pen-name Anne Moore -- and on that I took legal advice (having been caught out once before). But I am not going to do it in the future because past experience suggests to me that the copyright complications are so enormous that it just ain't worth the hassle. The C.E. Petit communication makes me even more convinced of that.
To see what I mean, pay a visit to the Warped Weft. There Petit gives us an enormously long discussion of copyright issues relating to fan fiction and in terms of US law. Whether you wish to, or need to, read all the way through this, you should be able to see at a glance that the topic is not simple. (If you print it out, the Petit piece runs to 31 pages.)
Mr Petit's overall conclusion, if you scroll through to the end, is that copyright law is not the best tool for analysing the rights and wrongs of using other people's characters. The best tool is trademark legislation. However, for a variety of reasons, mainly the self-interest of those involved, we are likely to have to put up with using copyright law in the foreseeable future. And since (it seems to me) copyright law varies significantly even between two nations such as the USA and the UK, the result is, more often than not, wonderful pay days for the lawyers and not much enlightenment for anyone else.
If you follow up some of the leads in the Petit discourse you will find that there are quite a few legal professionals who are also much interested in this and related copyright problems. I for one am deeply grateful to the C.E. Petits of this world, who give us the benefit of their expertise as part of the gift economy.
Once again, lest we should ever take it for granted, it is worth saying that, when I was a lad, very little of such informed, detailed, and valuable comment was available anywhere. Let alone free, and at the click of a mouse.