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rainer_
Community Member

Regarding rights to characters

The question I have is regarding who owns the legal rights to characters in a book I've sold the rights to.

Although the majority of my work is ghostwritten, I've recently been lucky enough to have something put out there in my own name. I've agreed to do a series of three books for this client, however, I haven't signed any kind of NDA or contract or anything.

My aim is to use these same characters again in the future for books which I plan to pitch to larger publishers. Is this a viable option?

Thank you for your help.

20 REPLIES 20
researchediting
Community Member

Joe,

As background: By working on Upwork, you have "signed" a contract giving the clients all copyright to the sold material. While not technically "work for hire" (because you are a contractor who sold a product), Upwork's default terms on copyright make this a distinction without a difference.

In future, you must specify by your own contract whatever rights you wish to retain to material you have created.

I leave the answer to your specific question to someone more knowledgeable.

Best,
Michael

re: "My aim is to use these same characters again in the future for books which I plan to pitch to larger publishers. Is this a viable option?"

 

No.

 

Unless you used an alternative contract that stipulates that you have any rights at all to characters within the books, Upwork's default contracts and policies are in place. Which means you don't own the characters in the books you wrote for the client. The client owns the characters.

 

The characters which were created in those books? You have the same rights to use those characters that you have to use Spider-Man or Captain Jean-Luc Picsrd or Katniss Everdeen: none.

 

Having said that... There is nothing wrong with ASKING the copyright holder if you may use those characters in future works. The worst that she can do is say no.

Joe, caveat - I'm not legally trained but - SOP is whatever you created and were paid in full for belongs to the buyer.

If you had signed an agreement with the buyer ahead of time stipulating you 'owned' the characters that would be an entirely different matter. From your post, I don't believe this was the case.

Thanks all. I'm just going to have to ask really nicely if I can use the same characters for future books. 


@Joe T wrote:

Thanks all. I'm just going to have to ask really nicely if I can use the same characters for future books. 


 It seems very unlikely that a client would agree to that, as it would mean someone else profiting from their groundwork. Your best bet if you're hoping to do that would be to try to work with the same publisher.

On re-reading your post, Joe, in the light of Tiffany's response: So someone gave you a foot in the door with a credited multiple-book contract and you're already thinking of jumping ship?

Why not first finish the contract? If the books sell, everybody wins, and you can (maybe) negotiate better terms for future books or series with your publisher. (If they don't sell, you have every reason to be shopping new material around elsewhere.) If the publisher balks at better terms, they can hire someone else to continue the series while you shop around other books or series with other publishers now that you have more of a name in the field.

For now: Dance with the one that brung you.

melaniekhenson
Community Member

Here's the thing. If those three characters were entirely your creation, why can't you just create three new characters for your own book?

 

OTOH, if they weren't entirely your creation - IOW, if the client gave you parameters and asked you to flesh those out - then those characters were never yours to begin with.

 

Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible, there really is nothing new under the sun, taking somebody else's idea because it worked and then copying it with tweaks has a name in the publishing world, as anywhere in business, and it isn't a pretty one, and it can have legal consequences.

 

So don't go there.

 

Here's what you're left with:

 

1. If you created these characters entirely on your own, there is NOTHING stopping you from creating more...and more, and more. Dozens. Hundreds. So do that.

 

2. If you didn't entirely create these characters, and you are thinking of lifting them from the person whose original idea they were, then you don't have the capacity to make it on your own as an author of this particular type. Write a different type of book - either fiction in an area that rings true for you, or nonfiction in an area you're an expert at.

"Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible, there really is nothing new under the sun, taking somebody else's idea because it worked and then copying it with tweaks has a name in the publishing world, as anywhere in business, and it isn't a pretty one, and it can have legal consequences."

 

Umm, what exactly did Shakespeare (if Shakespeare as a single writer existed) "rip off from the Bible" ? 


@Nichola L wrote:

"Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible, there really is nothing new under the sun, taking somebody else's idea because it worked and then copying it with tweaks has a name in the publishing world, as anywhere in business, and it isn't a pretty one, and it can have legal consequences."

 

Umm, what exactly did Shakespeare (if Shakespeare as a single writer existed) "rip off from the Bible" ? 


As I said: the very line I was referencing. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Shakespeare: "If there is nothing new under the sun..."

 

 

Ecclesiastes 1:9: "...and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun."

 

 

I'm not dissing the Bard, BTW. I am a die-hard Willophile. There is no help for me, I need a 12-step program. Love, love, love Shakespeare...but he unabashedly ripped off other material. All the time. He made it his...and you can do that under certain circumstances even today. But taking three specific characters and tweaking them a little when you already sold those characters to someone else who now owns the rights? I just wouldn't go there. If the OP has the talent to create three characters on his own he has the talent to create three dozen characters on his own. If not, then he can't carry an entire book anyway. Not criticizing - I have tried writing fiction; for some of us, it's harder than hell.

As for Shakespeare as a single writer, I can email you some links to great books on the subject if you'd like. The concensus, though, seems to currently be that, nope, it was just one fellow. But I do know of some authors who have written books which are awesome reads for the fascinating research and side facts alone. Let me know!

My personal jury is still out - in spite of the "great books". However, I can't see where Shakespeare single (or collective) "ripped off the Bible" - do share.


@Nichola L wrote:

My personal jury is still out - in spite of the "great books". However, I can't see where Shakespeare single (or collective) "ripped off the Bible" - do share.


 I promise I didn't mean to upset you. You can mentally change the phrase if you want. I was being lighthearted.

 

I referenced the two quotes for you so scroll up...my post disappeared so I had to rewrite it.

 

Truly was not trying to ruffle anyone. It is well known that Shakespeare (unashamedly) took former works (and individual quotes/phrases) and spun his own stories from them. I like to think that with his own sense of humor and love of plot twists, Shakespeare rather enjoyed the mock mini-scandals that typically ensued, but that may be my own little fantasy. And as I said, what he did with this one quote always has tickled me.

 

I love to talk Shakespeare, although this is now very off-track. As I said, contact me of you'd like those titles. They're good fun and from actual names, very little hysterical conspiracy theory involved. Let me know.

But you haven't upset me at all! I'm interested. And prepared to argue ๐Ÿ˜‰


@Nichola L wrote:

"Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible, there really is nothing new under the sun, taking somebody else's idea because it worked and then copying it with tweaks has a name in the publishing world, as anywhere in business, and it isn't a pretty one, and it can have legal consequences."

 

Umm, what exactly did Shakespeare (if Shakespeare as a single writer existed) "rip off from the Bible" ? 


My replies keep disappearing. They don't violate TOS so...not sure why...? Could be the edits?

 

Anyway: I was referencing the "nothing new under the sun" phrase, which was paraphrased by Shakespeare in Sonnet 59 from an Ecclesiastes quote. 

 

I had also stated (in my newly disappeared post) that I have nothing against the Bard. I love, love, love Shakespeare and wrote the only 100% score (apparently) Shakespeare-related paper one particular professor in my school ever handed out to any student in a 40-year history (as a perhaps boring aside, the paper attempted to prove that Shakesepare understood, well ahead of modern psychiatry, the difference between the condition of melancholy and actual depression). I am not disrespecting the fellow...in fact, this tongue-in-cheek lifting of another verse that actually proves itself is so very, very Shakespeare.

 

That's getting off-track, though. See my post below.

Melanie, isn't that more allusion than "rip-off"?

I was being tongue-in-cheek and somewhat hyperbolic. Two things the Bard would have absolutely loved. He adored barbs, too.

 

Don't worry, I will NEVER do it again, LOL. ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Please feel free too replace that phrase with anything at all.

 

 

@ Melanie --

 

Not at all clear on your use of the word "ironically" in this context. (The comment that seems to have begun one tangent: "Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible...") (Not sure at all where the "single writer" tangent came from. Is  it a reference to  the Stratfordian-versus-multiple-authors[-versus-Oxford/deVere/et al.] debate? This debate does come up in these forums from time to time.)

 

ETA:  Okay. I see Nichola's parenthetical comment re "single writer."


@Janean L wrote:

@ Melanie --

 

Not at all clear on your use of the word "ironically" in this context. (The comment that seems to have begun one tangent: "Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible...") (Not sure at all where the "single writer" tangent came from. Is  a reference to  the Stratfordian-versus-multiple-authors[-versus-Oxford/deVere/et al.] debate? This debate does come up in these forums from time to time.)


Oh! What I meant by "ironically" was that I believe Shakespeare himself was using irony - in other words, using the reference that there isn't anything new under the sun (or rather, "no new thing under the sun") to explain to people that there was nothing new under the sun. I could be interpreting that incorrectly. And if you want to take it literally, then even my take there wouldn't illustrate irony, it would just be...well, a direct illustration. But I feel like Shakespeare's love of word-play gave this a more tongue-in-cheek bent. Just my impression. I could be wrong, I didn't know the man. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I wish!)

 

It's equally possible that he didn't mean anything at all by it beyond the obvious: he was referencing the Bible quote and I don't think he was hiding the fact ("IF there be"). I am not sure I'm explaining this correctly...it's just that that quote has the typical Shakespearian ring of an Easter egg wating to be discovered. Just an impression and maybe I didn't explain it correctly.

 

As far as the single writer thing, I didn't bring that up but I can say I don't really think about it that much, usually, when I read Shakespeare; I just enjoy. However, my Shakespeare 210 professor talked about the theory and mentioned the books, and I read two of them. There must be dozens out there. Because it was brought up I thought I'd pass the info along. Personally, from what I've read coupled with just hunch and gut instinct, I feel it was only one fellow, but I don't really take any sort of firm stand on that...I don't believe I have "the" single answer there. 

 

Hope this explains things.

 

Honestly I was not trying to spark a debate, I was being facetious, obviously hyperbolic but just for play and was NOT expecting the tightly-controlled scandalized reaction I got, LOL. I'm not taking any huge stance here, I'm not a Shakespeare scholar, just an admirer.


@Melanie H wrote:

@Janean L wrote:

@ Melanie --

 

Not at all clear on your use of the word "ironically" in this context. (The comment that seems to have begun one tangent: "Although, as Shakespeare himself ironically ripped off from the Bible...") (Not sure at all where the "single writer" tangent came from. Is  a reference to  the Stratfordian-versus-multiple-authors[-versus-Oxford/deVere/et al.] debate? This debate does come up in these forums from time to time.)


Oh! What I meant by "ironically" was that I believe Shakespeare himself was using irony - in other words, using the reference that there isn't anything new under the sun (or rather, "no new thing under the sun") to explain to people that there was nothing new under the sun. I could be interpreting that incorrectly. And if you want to take it literally, then even my take there wouldn't illustrate irony, it would just be...well, a direct illustration. But I feel like Shakespeare's love of word-play gave this a more tongue-in-cheek bent. Just my impression. I could be wrong, I didn't know the man. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I wish!) 

 

...

 

Just an impression and maybe I didn't explain it correctly.ed reaction I got, LOL. I'm not taking any huge stance here, I'm not a Shakespeare scholar, just an admirer.


 You explained yourself well.

 

I would call this reference/allusion "playful" -- or, as you put it above, perhaps "tongue-in-cheek." It is perhaps literary enactment or, broadly speaking, mimesis. I would put it simply as "form mirroring content," and might add, of course: plus รงa change, plus c'est la mรชme chose.


@Janean L wrote:


 You explained yourself well.

 

I would call this reference/allusion "playful" -- or, as you put it above, perhaps "tongue-in-cheek." It is perhaps literary enactment or, broadly speaking, mimesis. I would put it simply as "form mirroring content," and might add, of course: plus รงa change, plus c'est la mรชme chose.


Mmmmmmmmmmmmm....perhaps.

 

I think the Bard would be amused at the lengths gone to here. Who knows, perhaps he envisioned, centuries ago, people sitting around an internet forum attempting to correct one another and circle down to the most specific interpretation possible of a line of a sonnet...even if he meant nothing at all by it but to stir the future pot.

 

Come to think of it...if he had at all a psychic bent, I'll bet he did. He is likely doubled in his grave right now from hilarity, going, "I KNEW I could get a lot of mileage out of pressing that one little button."

Well done, Will!