Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cover Your Butt by Pat Cunningham

Today I want to talk about the professional butt and how to keep it safely covered from legal attacks. The other blog I’m on, Shapeshifter Seductions ( is currently undergoing minor content renovations. No, we’re not excising twincest or stepdaughter stories or high school kids having sex. We don’t do that over there. It’s sentient bestiality all the way. Our shapeshifters are all consenting adults. They consent to hetero sex, gay sex, threesomes and foursomes, BDSM and discipline with rulers. There’s plenty of species intermingling and even a mixed marriage (carnivore/herbivore). They’re quite the progressive bunch in Talbot’s Peak.

What some of them may also be is in violation of other creators’ copyrights.

It all started innocently. Serena posted an example of a newspaper in a town taken over by shapeshifters, the Guts and Butts Gazette. The rest of us (Savanna, Rebecca, Solara and me) ran with it with a vengeance. Savanna brought in White Fang Kent, ace reporter and superpowered wolf from an alien planet. I added his professional rival, Leona Lane, woman reporter and werepanther. The paper needed a photographer, so we brought in red wolf Jamie Olsen. The editor is werewolf Nick McMahon. (Either Serena isn’t a comic book fan, or she’s smarter than the rest of us.)

From there things just kind of exploded. We named our Montana town Talbot’s Peak (after Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man). Savanna felt we needed a sexy cowboy character. Enter Brandon Wayne, millionaire rancher, businessman, and bat shifter. (If she could have Superman, I wanted Batman.) The Tiger Yakuza set up shop as the catch-all bad guys, led by the evil Shere Khan. Our blog has since morphed into a home for shapeshifter flash scenes featuring a cast larger than The Simpsons’. Occasionally they even follow a plot.

As long as we stuck to the blog, providing five free reads a week, everything was fine. However, we’re writers. You know how that goes. Our characters evolved and developed and wanted their stories told, and not at a pace of 1000 words at a time. We began writing stories and novels involving the town and its people, and making plans to publish. Those plans bore fruit when Savanna recently published Her Midnight Stardust Cowboys, the first Talbot’s Peak novel. (I’m reading it on my laptop, and it’s hawt.)

This is the point where I panicked.

Not over the idea of having to sit down and write a novel, daunting though that is to lazy folk like me. It’s those character names. Lighthearted homages to our favorite comics and TV shows are fine on free blogs and fan fiction sites, but once you go pro and money starts changing hands, people take serious notice. People like those who initially created those characters you’re paying homage to, and the corporations that own the copyrights.

I have to take the blame for a lot of this problem. I read tons of comic books and watched tons of TV in my early years. Most of the iffy names are attached to characters I created. I warned Savanna before she published, so we caught most of the offenders, but we’re still left with having to clean up our act.

Luckily the damage isn’t too extensive. We just need to change a few names. The characters themselves long ago evolved beyond their other-media origins. For instance, Jimmy and Jamie Olsen both started life as redheaded photographers for their respective papers. However, I don’t think Superman’s pal is a wolf shifter, or a repressed homosexual edging his way out of the closet with the loving support of his partner, a randy Latino snake shifter. Since red wolves are native to the southern states, it was easy enough to make Jamie a Cajun boy named Robineau. The other offending characters are undergoing similar identity changes.

I thought maybe I was overreacting, foreseeing legal problems where there weren’t any. Last week’s episode of Grimm made me change my mind. The fairy tale bad guy of the week had a bizarre name—Trinket Lipslums or something like that. He’d gone by similar bizarre names in the past, all with the same letters. You know what else those letters spell? Rumplestiltskin. So why not just call him that? It’s a legitimate fairy tale name and in the public domain. Or it would be, if not for ABC/Disney’s show Once Upon a Time, which has Rumplestiltskin as a recurring character. Obviously NBC’s legal department didn’t want any trouble from ABC’s legal department, so they changed the name and only dropped hints about the character’s true identity.

If major networks are pussyfooting around over legal use of a name and characters that may look a wee bit too similar to some company’s trademarked cash cows, then we on the shapeshifter blog would do well to distance our creations from their origins, even though it was all done in innocent fun. Corporate lawyers don’t look at it that way. Especially if our fun starts earning us profits, using someone else’s well-established name.

(Like NBC and ABC have any right to complain. DC Comics/Vertigo shopped its comic book property Fables around Hollywood in hopes of landing a production deal. Fables is about fairy tale beings living in the modern world. Both NBC and ABC turned them down. Then both networks debuted TV shows about fairy tale beings living in the modern world. Things that make you go hmmmm …)

In short, what we did in using those names wasn’t meant as stealing. It was just a joke. That’s fine for free reads on a blog, or fan fiction. Once we go pro with it, though, it starts edging into plagiarism and piracy territory. It’s easier just to change the names and pretend it never happened. Cover the buttsky. Better safe than sorry.

50 Shades of Grey doesn’t count. James changed the names before she published.

And now, back to my own TP story, which involves only original characters. Except for Shere Khan, who’s already had a name change. And Rick, who looks like Brendan Fraser and was named after his character in The Mummy, but nobody will know that unless I tell them. Which I just did. Oops…

Originally posted at TITLE MAGIC


Savanna Kougar said...

Happy reading and writing...

William Kendall said...

Yes, you did just spill the beans on Rick's origins. Too late to take it back now!