----- Original Message ----
> From: David McCann <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 12:02:57 PM
> Subject: Re: Conlang copyright
> On Mon, 2009-09-28 at 09:06 +0200, Benct Philip Jonsson wrote:
> > ... you can't use names, characters or places
> > from a work under copyright in your own work, so
> > you couldn't publish a story about a place called
> > "Gondor" in a continent called "Middle-earth"!
> This is not the case in English law. Names of books, places, and
> characters cannot be copyright...
> A lot of discussion of copyright assumes that US law is normal; in fact
> it's very different.
No, US copyright law isn't that much different; at any rate, I'd avoid a judgment laden word like "normal." The main difference between US law and those of most other countries is the explicit protection on "derivative" works (such as making a novel into a movie, but also writing a sequel using the same characters without enough added changes). Unfortunately, though, that can be a major difference, depending on the judge. Salinger won his suit regarding a sequel to Catcher in the Rye, but the Mitchell estate lost an attempt to block publication of a rewriting of Gone with the Wind from a slave's perspective while the Nabokov estate dropped a threatened lawsuit over Pia Pera's Lo's Diary (Lolita from the girl's perspective). I'll note, though, that British author JK Rowling exploited the US law to block continued publication of an encyclopedia of Harry Potter characters, so apparently not all Brits are opposed to or confused by US law. ;)
What's unfortunate about US copyright law is not it in itself but rather the nature of US legal society that certain companies, particularly Disney, have been so successful in extending the interpretation of the law far beyond what the original framers intended. For instance, Disney has successfully blocked or obstructed other versions of stories they've made movies from, such as Snow White, even when it's obvious they didn't create those characters. Also, Disney has lobbied for extensions to copyright intended to prevent any Disney properties from falling into public domain (the oldest protected work of which, ironically, is one of Disney's own borrowed-character works [Alice's Wonderland]).