works based on short stories or old video games

I am considering what interactive fiction I am going to write next and I’m considering two ideas:

  1. A story either based on or a sequel to the short story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Now I understand that Harlan Ellison is a bit of a sue-happy guy when it comes to his ip, but do you think it would be ok for me to do a non-commercial work of interactive fiction (I can’t really think of anything more non-commercial) based on his work? I would think it would fall into the “fan-fiction” category, so I don’t think there would be any issue.

  2. I have a great idea for a story based on the X-COM universe. X-COM, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a classic pc game series, that I don’t think they are currently making any new games for, but have probably recently. It is a classic famous game though and I enjoyed it so much so many years ago that it would be fun to create something from that world.

So what do you think? I wouldn’t want any trouble or have my games taken down from ifdb… Do you think anyone would notice or care if I picked one of these ideas and ran with it?

There’s a difference between ideas being the same and details being the same, so while I wouldn’t call the game 'X-COM: the text adventure", or likewise for the Ellison story, don’t let that stop you from their ideas inspiring your own work.

There are fanfic works in the IF world (and on the Archive) already. As long as you don’t copy text directly from the source into your work, there shouldn’t be a problem.

The idea that copyright infringement should be okay as long as you don’t make money has always seemed strange to me. Certainly, making money from someone else’s IP is obviously taking advantage of their hard work, but putting out free competition doesn’t seem all that helpful to me either. Not that I think you’ll get sued, or that you’ll really lose anyone any money, it’s just that I hear this ‘non-commercial’ defence a lot, and I’m not sure where people got the idea.

That’s what you think, is it? :wink:

I’ve only ever played the first game, but I don’t remember it as having an especially detailed story. As George said, why not just make a game inspired by it? I’ve always assumed X-COM was inspired by Gerry Anderson’s UFO in the first place.

There are already fan games on the IFDB for, for example, Zelda and Metroid.

I didn’t say it was legal (I Am Not A Lawyer) and I didn’t say it was ethical (I am not your moral instructor either). The question was “Do you think anyone would notice or care…?” My opinion is that nobody will notice or care, as long as you don’t copy text or images directly.

Also, Diane Duane wrote an excellent novel called X-COM: UFO Defense. The fact that the game had little storyline left plenty of room for her to invent one.

Given that you didn’t mention non-commerciality at all, what part of my post seemed directed at you and not at the OP, or the subject in general? I don’t at all dispute your stance that there would be no problem, which is why I said as much myself.

This is not a good idea. Back in the 90s, Ellison produced a game based on that story. Evidently he felt differently about its commercial prospects.

Moreover, as you seem to recognize, you would be hard-pressed to find an author more litigious than Ellison. If you have any plans to distribute the finished product, stay well away from his content.

JK Rowling?


Regarding the permission for an IF treatment of Harlan Ellison’s work, why not ask him directly through the Art Deco Dining Pavilion at the Harlan Ellison Webderland site. I’m sure he’ll leave you very little doubt on his feelings either way …


So what, then, is fair usage of a concept/quote? Obviously a tribute game (yes, I have one planned. It’s for something rather obscure, actually) would need to include intellectual property, and some “classic” quotes in one such book would seem perfect for a puzzle. Are these to be totally avoided?

E.g. if someone wanted to write about Tintin, it would be hard not to have Castafiore singing Faust’s Jewel Song–or references to it–or Captain Haddock saying “Blistering Barnacles” or “Thundering Typhoons.” But lifting the plot is more than I’m willing to do.

My impression is that common sense should rule, but I don’t know enough about IP to know what is common sense.

Parody is protected. It’s the safest way to go if your tribute qualifies. Short quotes are usually fine, though it depends on the length of the quote relative to the amount of original content. Pictures and music are dicey; characters are generally off-limits.

Stealing the plot outright is fine as long as you change the characters and the setting to something of your own devising.

Fair use is a quagmire that comes down to two things: how likely the IP owner is to sue, and whether you are prepared to outspend him on legal fees. I would recommend Googling for something like tintin lawsuit and checking the results before you undertake a project like this. You can also contact the creator and ask for permission.

Thanks for the help–it’s good to have starting points for what to look at and also some assurances that parody etc. and including “money quotes” are ok. Though in this case, I’m writing a tribute work for something which is already a bit of a parody, but it’s from 50+ years ago, so I think there’s enough latitude for technological advances while hopefully keeping the story’s heart.

Works published after 1923 and before 1964 may potentially be in the public domain as well, if the copyright was not renewed during the 28th year after the original publication. See the Wikipedia entry on US copyright law for details.

This is more likely in the case of short stories in old pulp magazines, some of which have appeared as Project Gutenberg texts.