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Author Topic: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels  (Read 479 times)

Shiryuu

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Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« on: 07-23-18 at 07:54 am »

Hi all,

I like to know if I am allowed to use the word "Force" as a name to describe the Magic in my stories.

Like example

Elemental Force
Physical Force
Transfigure Force

And using the Category term for all this mechanics as Magic Force

Is it allowed? Cause i understand that "The Force" is trademarked but i still like to use the word "Force" as it most accurately described the type of magic i am writing in the novel. I omit "the" throughout.

Can i have an advice on this?
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MYK

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #1 on: 07-23-18 at 05:11 pm »

That sort of usage has been common since long before Star Wars.  It would take more than just that to create risk of infringement.
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

Robert K S

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #2 on: 07-23-18 at 05:50 pm »

What do you think of the larger question of whether using any trademarked term in a book can ever create a case of trademark infringement, given the underlying purpose of trademarks as associating goods with their origins?

Let's take an extreme example and say an unauthorized author writes a book, having a story otherwise unrelated to Star Wars, and names all the characters Luke, Leia, Ben, Han, Darth, etc.  Is there a proper cause of action by Lucasfilm/Disney under a trademark theory?
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MYK

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #3 on: 07-23-18 at 11:35 pm »

With the caveat that my copyright knowledge is a patchwork:

I'm not seeing an application of trademark law, really, not when it's the contents.  Titling the book something like "Jedi Rampage" could easily be an issue due to the potential to mislead consumers.  Same with doing something like using the nom de plume "George Lucas" which would violate right-of-publicity of the real GL (unless that's really the author's name -- but considering what Lucas did to that poor defenseless original trilogy in more recent years, that might be more of a turnoff than a selling point).

As far as copyright, it already seems to be settled law that one infringes when one uses significant settings from existing fictional "universes" without permission.  See for example the Sherlock Holmes cases over the last few years, where the Conan-Doyle estate has sued authors for writing fiction set in it, and has successfully controlled the commercial use of the characters and settings until the copyrights began expiring.

The case that sort of stopped the C-D estate in their tracks happened during and just after I was in law school, and the judge split the baby very neatly -- the ruling as I recall it was that, because the earlier stories had gone out of copyright, elements of the Sherlock Holmes "universe" that were drawn from the earlier stories were now fair game for anyone to use, but events and elements that happened in the still-in-copyright stories remained restricted and required a license to use them.

On the other side of that, there is somewhat of a tradition of "fanfic", fan fiction, written and published free.  Steven Brust talks about it a little in the author's notes for his "Firefly" novel, "My Own Kind of Freedom".  I forget whether they're actually in the text of the ebook, or if it was on his website somewhere, but basically, he wrote that it's almost impossible to deal with the licensing for writing a book like that, so he just wrote it and released it on the net, and as long as one isn't making any profit off it, publishers usually leave fanfic authors alone.  Then again, Brust is a self-declared communist (I forget which flavor, not that it really matters), so take it for what you want.

Merely naming characters is unlikely to infringe copyright, unless of course Leia is an Aldeboron Princessa and Luke uses a mysterious power called Le Force to pull a little green frog named Yogurt out of a swamp on the planet Dogbert.  Put enough of that in, and unless the work can fall within fair use, perhaps as parody, Disney might have a shot at successfully suing.

Nerdgasm novels like "Ready Player One" or "We Are Legion (We Are Bob)" which merely refer to the stories don't seem to be infringing, even though for example Dennis Taylor named most of the replicants in the Bobiverse after existing characters (Riker, Homer, Luke).  He wasn't copying the plotlines or anything, just filling the books full of cultural references to cartoons and science fiction movies.
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

MYK

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #4 on: 07-24-18 at 01:41 am »

BTW, there was another recent event, where John Scalzi released some new novel and Vox Day's Castalia House immediately released another with a very similar cover *and* title *and* author "nom de plume" ("Johan Kalsi"), rather obviously to troll Scalzi.

Amazon yanked the Castalia book over some made-up nonsense reason, not based on anything legally relevant or even (AFAIK) because of any complaint by Scalzi.  The primary reason seemed to be because Vox Day is an enormous asshole.  And I say that as someone who largely agreed with his arguments during the various Puppies wars, and also as someone who thinks Scalzi is one of the crappiest authors to have somehow managed to get publishing houses to print his drivel.  As an example, Scalzi released a book of short stories that were supposed to be humorous, and I haven't been so bored since reading 17th century Calvinist sermons in my high school American literature class sophomore year.

I tried to find something positive about his writing, I really did.  Even reading antitrust court decisions is more interesting;  they have more relatable characters, arguments that proceed to some sort of conclusion, and the occasional steamy policy debate scene.

So anyway there may be some possibility of "trade dress"-like actions, but that's unlikely.
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

Robert K S

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #5 on: 07-24-18 at 01:26 pm »

Merely naming characters is unlikely to infringe copyright

Cool.  My question was about trademark causes of action, though.
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MYK

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #6 on: 07-24-18 at 05:05 pm »

Strictly trademark?  I could see it if some coined terms, art, or whatever were used for something that created a first impression (probably from the cover, or maybe from significant excerpts prominently featured in release announcements) that the work was tied in to the existing "universe".  I don't see it if someone had to start reading through everything to find out that all the characters were named after "Star Wars" characters.  Bobiverse is a sorta-close not-really-hypothetical, but he named the ships after so many different "universes" that there wasn't any likelihood of confusion.

But this is just off-the-cuff and I have done no research, etc., etc.

There was also a recent bit of fun with a cover-art artist selling nonexclusive licenses for a particular "futuristic soldier" piece of artwork that got incorporated as the central element in the covers of at least three completely different novels, all within a few weeks.  I don't think any of them knew about the others.  Anyway, the nonexclusive licensing deals probably wouldn't allow anyone to sue over that, since they knew what they were getting when they bought the nonexclusive license.  As a trade-dress issue, it's similar to the Vox Day thing, but even with the added elements from his trolling I don't think Amazon's pulling the book was a reasonable response, nor one that a court would have ordered.  But since it was Vox Day doing it, hey what the heck. :D
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

MYK

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Re: Using the word "Force" in Fantasy/Sci Fi Novels
« Reply #7 on: 08-08-18 at 03:13 am »

Oh now *this* is interesting, Robert.  William Shakespeare's Star Wars.

http://www.iandoescher.com/frequently-asked-questions/

But it's all licensed, and LucasFilm owns the rights.  Still, it shows what can be done if someone really wants to, and can get the rights-owner to partner willingly.
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"The life of a patent solicitor has always been a hard one."  Judge Giles Rich, Application of Ruschig, 379 F.2d 990.

Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.
 



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