Question about intellectual copyright regarding fiction

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  • About 4-5 years ago I created a fictitious world and wrote stories with it. I published the fictional world information (including names of fictitious countries, animals, etc) on a website of mine.

    Now about two and a half years ago I showed a friend this information, and we made up some role-playing stories with it. Even though she complained about me calling it "my world" (since I was the creator of it) I never gave up my copyright or stated that any of the elements didn't belong to me. We didn't write stories, just played out fantasy scenes and things with characters based around this world.

    Now we no longer speak. I have been building up my world more since then and have a novel in the works based on my world and lore. I am using my original characters that I created before I showed her my world, and I am using characters that I created while we did this roleplaying stuff.

    I have a few questions though.

    I am removing anything that she came up with that we played with. It isn't much as she added very very little to the roleplaying aside from voicing characters. but any character that she created or animal she came up with, etc, I am not using. Those belong to her and frankly, I have enough imagination to create hundreds of creatures to suit my needs without using someone else's creation.

    However, for a great majority of the characters she played, I created their names. I don't want to lose these names that I made, though, but I don't want to give her any fuel to try and say that I stole anything from her. If she couldn't think of a name, then I made one up and let her use it. I'm assuming that means I am the "owner" of that name. I don't want to take the characters in whole and make them mine, I just want to keep the names that I actually made so that I can use them later.

    There is also the issue of her using names that I created (not real names like John or Rebecca or whatever, but names I created out of thin air that didn't exist before) as blog names or usernames or whatever. I don't want to be petty about it and start a bunch of unecessary crap, but I again don't want her to have a leg to stand on to claim that she made such-and-such up when I was the author of it.

    To make my copyright on these characters in relation to my lore and fiction, could I essentially write out histories using these names and print them out so I have some physical proof they're mine? The original creation is bogged down in years of AIM etc files that probably don't even exist any more.

    My other idea is to fix up my website and update it with the necessary lore, fiction, and character ideas and information. 90% of this is already published on the net with my name listed as the copyright owner, and I have some stories using my fiction published on a restricted (non-public) fiction website (kind of like fiction press but you have to register to see the stories posted, they aren't just open to whoever stumbles on them using google).

    Or should I do both of these? Create the necessary story elements as works of fiction and print them and file them, and also put them onto my updated website?

    I really don't know what to do. I don't want to lose any of the stuff I've created over the last 4-5 years, and I don't want to risk losing anything that I created recently either.

    My final question is about the "roleplaying" we did. I never disclaimed my copyright over my fiction. I believe that whatever we wrote together amounted to fanfiction in terms of copyright. I gave her permission to write fiction using my world, in the same vein as the owners of Star Trek would allow fanfiction to be written. I now revoke all permissions to write fanfiction or derivitives of my work. Anything she wrote is hers- again, I can make my own works, I don't need anything from her.

    From what I understand of copyright, I believe what I've written here covers all potential problems quite nicely. To be cautious, I will probably change first and last names; e.i. retain a surname but create a new first name. Otherwise, I believe that everything else I have written in whole is 100% legally my own.

    Advice appreciated.
  • I read your question last week shortly after it was posted and I had hoped someone with more legal exposure than I would answer it but not so. Since it appears that you may be anticipating some sort of future copyright tangle what you may need is a more legal answer than this forum is able to provide. If I were you I would look at the materials at the Library of Congress Copyright Office website ( If that doesn't yield a helpful result for you then you may want to look for good lawyer.
  • You bring up some interesting and complex questions, Styggian. I agree that it may be helpful to consult with a lawyer, but wanted to mention a few points:

    * Ideas are not copyrightable, just their physical representation or publication. Thus, those characters or parts of your world that you discussed with your friend but did not write down (or draw, or whatever) would not be protected.

    * Names or short phrases cannot be copyrighted, so while you may own the characters (who they are, what they look like), you may need to share their names, at least as far as copyright goes. You may have some rights with other law (trademark, publicity) but I'm not very familiar with these, and at least some rights may vary from state to state.

    * You mention that Star Trek allows fan fiction to be written. This is true, in that they generally don't try to stop it. However, this does not make writing fan fiction legal. It seems to me that most fan fiction probably isn't legal, but that copyright owners don't pursue fan fiction authors because of their symbiotic relationship, and perhaps because there's generally not money involved. I do think that some fan fiction would probably be legal because of its role as parody or satire. In your case, I suppose it might be possible that there would be some sort of implied license, because of your role-playing together. This moves away from copyright law, though, and I don't really know enough about contracts and licensing to have a good take on this.

    * Writing out what you have might not affect any work already done by your friend, but it seems like it might be helpful for maintaining your rights going forward.
  • I would formally register the work with the Copyright Office.
    There's a fee but at least you would have some formal documentation.

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