Inspiration vs. copyrights?

So I know there are a few stories that take the inspiration of older stories like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Ridding Hood, etc. and obviously, even using the characters and settings, they’re not considered copyright infringements, but I was wondering if it’s because it’s ok to use stories for inspiration (as well as the characters) if you’re not using the same storyline, or is it because they’re old stories and therefore have lost their copyrights? (I remember learning that after fifty years, the copyrights are gone or something?)

If that’s the case, does a story need to be at least fifty years old in order to take inspiration and characters from a previous story and write your own? Or are any stories and characters allowed to be used for inspiration as long as it’s a different storyline?

Thank you!



5 thoughts on “Inspiration vs. copyrights?

  1. Great resource, Heather! It helped me, too.

    Using characters for inspiration? Whether that’s OK depends on a lot of things. For example, a character in your book can wish for a Hogwarts Owl to come in with an invite that would get her out of her present situation. But you can’t have a mini-giant named Hagrid actually appear and help your protagonist, especially if this Hagrid refers to his former job at Hogwarts. The first is inspiration, the second is copyright infringement. (A wild wizard named Merlin, however, is public domain.)

    Even with public domain stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, you have to be somewhat careful not to make them too close to other renditions. It’s probably not a good idea to have ugly stepsisters named Drizzella and Anastasia, for instance, or to have a talking tea set when the Beauty visits the castle.
    JEN Garrett

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The reason I was asking was because I had thought of writing a story about The Nightmare Before Christmas, but turning it around (though still using the characters, though they wouldn’t look exactly the same), but I suppose that would fall into Fanfiction and that’s allowed only if it’s not published (basically, not allowed to make money out of it, right?)


  2. Right. If it is the original creation of an author, if you use that idea, you’re infringing the copyright. This includes new renditions of old stories. Of course, the old story in the public domain does’t have a copyright anymore (like Cinderella as recounted by the Grimm brothers), but the new rendition does have it (like Cinder by Marissa Meyer) because the author put a whole new spin to the story that is completely hers.

    I don’t know where you live (I think this change based on nations), but here in Italy copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death. It doesn’t matter when the story was written, the important date is the author’s death.

    As for Nightmare Before Christmas, that’s a copyrighted story, because it’s the original creation of an author, so no, you can’t write a story based on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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