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Writing a sequel

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2016 5:48 pm    Post subject: Writing a sequel Reply with quote

Way back in the 1970s I read a historical novel based in the 18th century which I always felt ended very abruptly and I've long had it in mind to write a sequel. My intention is not just to give a better ending to the story but to introduce new readers to a once popular but now sadly-neglected author.

The basic facts are these:
  • the original book was first published in 1956;
  • the original book is still in copyright (the author died in 1979);
  • the original book has been out of print since the late 1970s;
  • the history behind the original book was fairly well-researched by the standards of the time;
  • the sequel will move the story on in time and will have a plot that depends little on the original, other than being based in the same historical period;
  • the sequel is based on historical events and developments (extensively researched) that did not feature in the original book;
  • the sequel will include no word for word text from the original;
  • a short resume of the original will be included in the guise of explaining to a new character what has happened;
  • the original book was driven very much by the plot than by the characters, only one of whom can be described as "major";
  • many of the same characters will appear in the sequel but one of the minor characters will now assume a more important role and a number of new characters will be introduced.

Leaving aside the matter of pure courtesy, do I need the formal permission of the original author's heirs and the original publisher to proceed with such a sequel? The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and this forum seems to have nothing to say about sequels.

Thanks for any guidance anyone can give.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2016 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi ronS

Certainly it would be courteous to inform the author's heirs of your intention, and possibly thereby gain their blessing for your book, but legally you don't need their permission or that of the publishers.

Characters per se are not specifically protected in UK copyright law*. If a character or a major plot device from the first book formed a substantial part of that book, reusing it in your book might amount to copyright infringement, but it sounds from your description that, except for the resume you mention, you will not be doing this. On that basis I think you should be OK to go ahead with your project.

However to gain some insight into how the courts have viewed this kind of issue in the past, take a look at the case known as the Da Vinci Code case in which Dan Brown was found not to have infringed the copyright of an earlier book which covered much of the same ground as the Da Vinci Code. While this wasn't about sequels, the principles are much the same. The Da Vinci Code case went to the Court of Appeal where, apart from some gentle criticism of the trial judge's rather unclear judgment, the CA dismissed the appeal. For the sake of completeness I am including a link to CA's judgment but because they agreed with the trial judge, you don't really need to read it, unless you want to see further analysis of how the courts examine the issue of a 'substantial part'.

There is a second matter which, if you were publishing your book in France, might have particular significance, and that is the moral right of the author of the first book not to have his work treated in a derogatory manner. I am not suggesting that your book would do this, but under French law the author's droit d'integrité is taken so seriously that even writing a sequel which was judged not the match the literary brilliance of the first book has led to a second author being fined, even though the original book was out of copyright at the time the sequel was written.

* In the USA this aspect of copyright has expanded considerably as can be seen from a long running series of disputes about characters and details taken from the Sherlock Holmes canon of Arthur Conan Doyle. And even the Batmobile from the Batman TV series has been declared a 'character' protected by copyright. It is highly doubtful that such decisions would be found by the UK courts.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2016 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you so much for such an amazing response and so swiftly added!. A superb website.
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