Dear Rich: I'm currently writing a book on
computer databases and I need a list of fictional names to simulate a
medical records database for one of the chapters. I thought it would be amusing to use a list of characters
from the Simpsons, with fictitious data about health conditions for
use in the exercises for that chapter. If I cite the names as
copyrighted by Fox, am I allowed to do that? Considering the zillions of Simpsons infringements, it's possible, though statistically unlikely, that the Simpsons' lawyers will choose to hassle you over your proposed use (BTW, attribution usually doesn't make much difference.) If by some bizarre chance you were hassled, and you could afford to take on the case, you have a reasonable claim for fair use (especially if you're only using the names, not the imagery). What would increase your chances of getting hassled would be if you used the Simpsons in connection with your promotion or advertising of the book, or if you used the characters as the centerpiece of a book -- for example, Simpsons Health Tips or Homer Simpson Diet Tips. Otherwise, your proposed use should fly safely below the Fox lawyers radar. We posted more on the Simpsons in a previous entry.