Legal Question in Business Law in Virginia

copyright question

I am writing a book about a disabled superhero.

In my research I found a list of super powers.

If I use some of these powers DO I NEED PERMISSION? OR CAN I JUST ACKNOWLEDGE WHO I GOT THE POWERS FROM?

Asked on 11/04/06, 10:06 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

Jonathon Moseley Office of Jonathon Moseley
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Re: copyright question

Copyright for a character like Superman or Mickey Mouse normally includes something called "derivative" rights. So if you write, in effect, a new story or new chapter in the series so to speak in the adventures of Superman, that would violate the copyright.

Now, first you have to know IF there is a copyright. Under current law, copyright lasts for something like 50 years (not exactly, I forget the number) and I think it can be renewed for a second term of approximately 50 years.

HOWEVER, the law as it is existed when, say Superman, was created was not current law. I am not qualified as an expert on these issues, but I would question whether some of the earliest superheros might not have passed into the public domain by now. Don't take my question as a conclusoin. I don't know the answer to that. But it's worth checking out.

However, if you write about a character -- WHO IS NOT SUPERMAN -- but who simply has certain superpowers like superman, I think you would be legally entitled to do this.

The derivative copyright gives the owners of Superman the right to write additional chapters in the continuing Superman saga, new adventures of Superman, and derivative works like movies, action figures, etc.

The derivative right DOES NOT give the owners of superman the exclusive right to capes, red and blue customes, etc.

The idea of superhuman powers go back to the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks. The owners of Superman cannot claim exclusive rights to the concepts of super-powers per se, which existed as a concept long before the United States was even founded and millenia before the Pilgrims left Holland. I belive that no one has exclusive rights to any paricular superhuman power... UNLESS it is a unique feature of just one superhero. For example, the ability to fly is something that humans have dreamed about for thousands of years. The ability to have bullets bounce off your chest is generic. X-ray vision is a generic concept. But having heat beams come out of your eyes and set fires is so unique to Superman that I might stay away from something that ONLY Superman can do, and no one else.

You should simply make sure that your character is clearly NOT Superman.

Will you be sued? Possibly. You can be sued even though you have done nothing wrong. But I think you would have a good chance of winning if you are sued.

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11/07/06, 9:25 pm
Michael Stone Law Offices of Michael B. Stone Toll Free 1-855-USE-MIKE
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Re: copyright question

If you are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I know of no law that requires you to pay royalties on your newfound super-power. But if you write about your own original superhero, you had better give him or her a set of powers that is readily distinguishable from those of other, existing fictional superheroes, because the lawyers for big media companies have super-budgets which equate to the power to crush you like a bug.

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11/05/06, 3:28 pm

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