Use of fictional characters in my novel

by Lenny

Question: Is it legal to have a team of doctors in two or three scenes at the end of a book be "Quackenbush, Hackenbush, Hrfurrurr, Howard, Fine and Howard?

Quackenbush seems safest - Groucho Marx almost used this name but was afraid of being sued by the real Quackenbush so he changed to Hackenbush.

The others are Steve Martin in The Man With Two Brains, and the Three Stooges. They say stereotypical things like "that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard" Moe smacks the other doctors, etc.

Answer: I'm not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be an expert on copyright law. If you are working with a publisher or agent, they will likely have more expertise, since they deal with these issues all the time. At any rate, you should probably seek legal advice before you publish.

To the best of my knowledge, the issues you have to consider are...

1. Are you defaming a living person in a way that would damage their reputation and therefore potentially their income? Alternatively, are you defaming a dead person whose heirs would be harmed (monetarily) if their ancestor's reputation is damaged by your words?

2. Are any of these characters trademarked by a publisher or film company? In which case, you might need that entity's permission to publish works that feature them.

3. Are you copying sentences from a book or screenplay that someone else owns the copyright on - for instance, a writer who is living or was living less than 70 years ago? If so, the quotations could not be lengthy (I believe no more than a small percentage of the original work) and you might have to give the original writer credit.

In all cases, you should make an effort to discover the copyright owner and get permission from that person before you lift anything from their works. That is the best way to cover yourself.

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