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Can I use Sam Spade this way?

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PStarz

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The heroine of my middle grade noir mystery novel watches The Maltese Falcon one Friday night.  After the movie's over, the hero Sam Spade speaks to her.   He asks her to be his partner.  Then throughout the book, he offers words of advice and encouragement.  She can't see him; she can only hear him, although no one else can. 

My question is - can I use a character from someone else's work in that way?  The book was published in 1929 (last copyright renewal 1957) and the movie came out in 1941, if that makes any difference. 

I'd appreciate any advice anyone can give give me.  Thanks.     
#1 - July 04, 2013, 06:11 PM

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I don't know the answer to your question. Does the estate of Dashiell Hammett still hold the copyright? I hope one of the lawyers who hang out here will answer you.

On a related note, did you see the 1972 Woody Allen movie, "Play It Again, Sam?" The main character, played by Woody, gets dating tips from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart after he watches "Casablanca." So Woody was able to use the Bogart-tough-guy persona. (But maybe he had to pay someone to get the rights. So, I don't know.)

Whatever the answer is, I hope you let us know when you get this published. As a big Bogie fan, I really want to read it!

Good luck!
#2 - July 04, 2013, 08:08 PM
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Woody Allen actually used footage from the film, cleverly edited to be seamless with his own movie. I don't know what the copyright issues were... to a certain extent, breaking down and reincorporating works into an original work is fair game, as is  outright parody.

One way to play it is call the detective "Danny Diamond," or whatever -- obviously meant to be Sam Spade, but fictionalized to an extent to ameliorate worries about copyright challenges. Most kids won't know the specific movie, but they have an idea of the "hard boiled detective" and will know what you're doing.

I was obsessed with Humphrey Bogart for a while as a kid. He's the bestest.
#3 - July 05, 2013, 06:38 AM

Hey PStarz,

I wish I had an answer for you as well, but your book sounds amazing.  I would suggest you keep going with it as it is, and change it later if there's a problem.

LMK if you need someone to critique your manuscript at some point.  I would love to read it  :goodluck
#4 - July 05, 2013, 07:42 AM

Sadly, no.  You cannot use other people's characters in your book.  (Fan fiction is another thing entirely). I don't know how to past an URL here with my ipad but will give you a link to a lit lawyer who covers this when I get home this weekend

:( eab
#5 - July 05, 2013, 08:33 AM

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In the Odd Thomas books, the main character interacts with the ghosts of several real-life people, such as Elvis and Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps you could have your character communicate with the actor (who picked up tips in his time acting the character) rather than Sam Spade himself?
#6 - July 05, 2013, 04:49 PM

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Oh boy. I'm with Auntybooks. I'm pretty sure you can't use a copyrighted character without permission (and I imagine Woody Allen got that permission). BUT, if your book was a parody you could probably do it. My understanding is that parody is protected in a way that a straight rendition isn't. Go figure.

Who's the publisher of the most recent edition of the original work? You could write and ask for permission. These days they're probably going to want money, I'm afraid.
#7 - July 05, 2013, 05:03 PM
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learning how to use the ipad....yeah. Here is the URL I promised!

http://www.rightsofwriters.com/2011/04/copyright-in-fictional-characters-can-i.html

Eab
#8 - July 05, 2013, 06:05 PM

Just hopping in to say that a few years ago I attended an author event for a book called Shamus in the Green Room. It was originally to be called "Sam Spade in the Green Room" and days before going to press, the estate of Dashiell Hammett protested and demanded they change the title. I don't know if they had the legal right to do so, but the publisher allowed it...
#9 - July 05, 2013, 06:25 PM
Robin

Okay, so in reading the blog on 'rights of authors' it's clear that you cannot use another authors  character in your book as a character. You cannot have Sam Spade appear and offer advice or partner with your MC. But, can your MC openly admire Dashiell Hammett and perhaps carry a copy of The Maltese Falcon around with them in the story (or in the case mentioned, watch the film version)? Sam Spade is not used as a character in the book, but does act as a source of inspiration for the MC-okay/not okay?
Rebecca
#10 - July 05, 2013, 10:29 PM

PStarz

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The Blue Boards rule!  Thank you for all your comments.  It's really not critical to the story that the hardboiled detective be Sam Spade so I can create a new mentor for her without having to change a whole lot. I just read the first book in the Brixton Brothers series by Mac Barnett.  His MC had a whole fictional detective brothers series he used for inspiration. 

And yes, purpleyams4ever, I'd love to have you critique the book when its finished (I have a few more chapters to wrap up, then the change to 'Sam.' )  You can contact me through my website www.patstarzyk.com.  I'd be happy to exchange ciritques with you. 
#11 - July 06, 2013, 08:07 PM

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Auntybooks, that is a terrific link. Thanks.

Laurel
#12 - July 07, 2013, 10:07 AM

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Thanks, Auntybooks! I've bookmarked that link.

A series of humorous MG books by Bruce Hale, the Chet Gecko mysteries, parodies the hard-boiled detectives, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. The titles, such as The Malted Falcon and The Big Nap, are a tip-off. 

http://www.brucehale.com/chetbks.htm

They sound like fun. I should check them out while I'm waiting for PStarz's book. :-)
#13 - July 07, 2013, 10:45 AM
ANTIQUE PIANO & OTHER SOUR NOTES
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Barb  :owl

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You are welcome Pons and Owl! And...Rebecca, I don't know enough to give you an answer. I mention that my mc is reading particular books in my new series. Just mention the title, though.

eab
#14 - July 07, 2013, 08:14 PM

PStarz

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I've read several of the Chet Gecko books and they're hilarious. 
#15 - July 09, 2013, 06:04 PM

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