Friday, August 2, 2013

Wants to Write Sequel to It's a Wonderful Life

Dear Rich: My question is that I would like to write a sequel to “It’s a Wonderful Life” in novel/e-book format. I have been trying to determine whether the original film’s characters and storyline, or anything from the short story on which the film was based, are in public domain. Or if not, how I would find out how to obtain permission to write a novel sequel to the film. I read your article entitled Public Domain Trouble Spots in which you wrote that although the film was in the public domain, the sound track was not. Was the film itself never copyrighted, only the soundtrack? And wouldn’t the new copyright laws now protect the originators of such works, even if they were created before the laws were changed in the 1970’s? Although it's fine for the film to be the inspiration for your flower shopband and shawlette (who knew?), you should probably rethink your plans for an It's a Wonderful Life eBook sequel. That's because the story on which the film is based is still protected. The copyright for the story was renewed in 1971 and is protected until 2039 (95 years from the date of publication). If you proceed with your plans, the owner of rights -- we presume that's the estate of Philip Van Doren Stern -- could come after you for copyright infringement. It's possible (but unlikely) that your derivative work will be protected under fair use (And authors in similar situations have worked out settlements.). In either case, it would be expensive to prove that you're correct and unless you're sure your work will fly below the copyright owner's radar, it's best to come up with a new idea.