Public Domain Characters in Choice of Games (or Hosted)

I did look around the forums for discussions on public domain, but didn’t really find a specific stance on the matter.

Gamebooks involving characters from Public Domain don’t violate anyone’s Intellectual Property (as long as they aren’t using ideas specific to commercial reboots).

I was wondering what Choice of Game’s stance would be on publishing such a game. Are there any rules about publishing games with known characters?

The WIP thread “Guenevere” is an an example of such a game, but I was wondering if CoG would even host that game. The game seems great and I see no reason why it couldn’t be hosted/sold under a CoG label. She’s also expressed interest in a “Robin Hood” game (which I was looking into making when I found hers. I don’t want to come in and pre-empt her future project…)

There are several works of literature written before the 1900s that are popular enough to spawn several reboots today, and would probably be blockbuster Choice of Games if they were published. Does anyone agree?

What are some that you are interested in seeing?

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I at one point considered the idea of a story set in the world of Gulliver Travels and maybe letting you choose to be either from Lilliputt, England or Brobdingnag and show how scale affects how you perceived the world, but I was never sure how something like that could be coded, or if Gulliver’s Travels is in the public domain.

It’s very debatable what is and isn’t though apparently. I had an idea about Tarzan but apparently he’s not in the public domain. And the logical option of Sherlock Holmes apparently shifts from country to country, so I hear.

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Exactly whether or not a work is under copyright depends on the interplay of two things, first, how close that work was made as compared to the Mickey Year, and second, what state the copyright laws were in when Disney became a major influence on that country’s politics. This sounds like hyperbole, but it is actually true: since Disney is both absurdly wealthy and also has one of the oldest copyrights that still stands, they pretty much dictate copyright law and will continue to do so until someone manages to get Mickey Mouse into the public domain. This means that the status of rather a lot of early 20th century IP is very much up in the air, since everything before 1928 (the Mickey Year) may or may not be subject to copyright laws depending entirely on what the copyright laws looked like before Disney began revising them. In particular, the United States copyright expiration is tied to the death of the creator, which means some works written *after* the Mickey Year might be public domain if their creators died before Walt Disney.

However, Gulliver’s Travels was written nearly 300 years ago and both King Arthur and Robin Hood are even older than that, and are most definitely not under any copyright.

I thought Mickey was going into public domain very soon. I’ll try to find the article.

Also, Cornell Law School has some awesome public domain tables. Just google them.

Under United States copyright law of 1978, Mickey Mouse would have gone into the public domain either 75 years after his creation in 1928, which is 2013 which you may have noticed has already happened, or 50 years after the death of his creator. This isn’t a grey area of the law, I just can’t remember which one applies. Now, Walt Disney died in 1966 which means under the 1978 law for author’s death plus fifty years, Mickey would be going public domain in 2016 which *is* pretty close…Except that Disney saw this problem looming way back in 1998 and the updated copyright law goes from the creator’s death plus seventy years, pushing the expiration date on Mickey back to 2036. You can expect the year to keep getting pushed back until Disney no longer has the resources to make it happen, and even then, once the expiration date catches up to things like Star Trek, whoever owns *those* copyrights will start making noise and copyrights will be defined by the Star Trek Year instead of the Mickey Year.

EDIT: Of course, the obvious alternative is that the article in question was about some *other* nation’s copyright laws*, because Mickey Mouse is way old and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s going public domain in a lot of places. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Disney revised copyright laws in all of those nations, too, because they vote with fungible currencies rather than actual votes which you need to be a local citizen to have.

*Freudian slip of the day: Prior to my second edit catching the mistake, this phrase read “some other nation’s copyright lies.”

I’ve been using this article on to look at copyright. I would be careful about more recent works, but this site seems pretty well-edited (I love this site, it’s hilarious).

As for Sherlock Holmes, the copyright in the UK is still there:
"Sherlock Holmes illustrates the differences in international copyright law. The first stories have never had copyright in the US. When Star Trek first included them, Paramount almost did get sued because they were still under copyright in the UK. The Conan Doyle estate sent them a Strongly Worded Letter saying they’d have to pay a fee the next time they wanted to use Holmes, so they didn’t revisit the character until two seasons later. "

But yeah, stories like King Arthur and Beowulf are public domain, it’s just I don’t know much about the OFFICIAL lore (I used to read an olde English version of King Arthur, but I forget most of the names and what happened) so it’d be hard for me to write a “faithful” adaptation of either one.

You could always use their inspirations and come up with your own idea. The Grimm fables are public domain, and Telltale Games came out with The Wolf Among Us that uses characters like The Big Bad Wolf and Beauty and the Beast. Snow White’s even in there. Surprisingly (to me), I think Snow White wasn’t invented by Disney.

Here’s some more fun stuff:

The 1886 Berne Convention first established recognition of copyrights among sovereign nations, rather than merely bilaterally. Under the Berne Convention, copyrights for creative works do not have to be asserted or declared, as they are automatically in force at creation: an author need not “register” or “apply for” a copyright in countries adhering to the Berne Convention. As of September 2013, there are 167 states that are parties to the Berne Convention, including the 166 UN member states.

@CitizenShawn: Before Frozen, precisely zero of the Disney princesses were from original stories. Their specific appearances are still under copyright (i.e. Belle is not an original character, but Disney can still copyright the specific big yellow poofy dress), and both Jasmine and Tiana are copyrighted original characters - they replace more generic characters in their respective stories, representing what seems to be a general trend over the last two decades to move away from reimagining public domain content - but it was seriously not until 2013 that Disney came out with a single Disney princess who was actually purely a creation of Disney. Mulan, Belle, Ariel, etc. etc. were all moderately obscure fairy tales.

The girl from Brave is also an original character and a part of the Disney princess pantheon, but I wouldn’t count her as a Disney creation. Pixar created her, and while Disney does in fact own them, they are still a distinct creative force.


That’s interesting! Don’t get me wrong, I like Disney, I just thought they came up with more of their own stuff.

And yeah, Pixar and Disney are separate, but I like them both!

@Lucid I like that rule, and I’ve heard of it somewhere before. The problem is that the burden of proof falls on the author. I read somewhere that if you write a manuscript or something you should send it in the mail to yourself and keep it sealed so you can prove in court that you had it first. I’m not sure how outdated that is but it might be a good practice to timestamp everything you create :wink:

Interesting conversation, thanks everyone!


But, wasn’t Frozen just another adaption? Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, right?

I always just figured that this was Disney’s “thing”. To update and reimagine folk tales.

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@Lucid correcct, Frozen is an adaptation, according to Wikipedia.

@Lucid: Oh, so it is. I really should have known better than to assume it was an original work just 'cause I hadn’t heard of it before, considering how obscure things like Mulan were before the Disney adaptation. Oh, well.

I knew a bit about the Snow Queen since she was likely the inspiration in The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe.

A sherlock holmes mystery could be pretty cool, especially if the mystery was somewhat randomized.

For discovering if something is public domain, i’d check Project Gutenburg:

Snow Queen is my favourite fairy tail by Andersen. It is amazing. I was virtually shocked when I first learned about it (I am not sure if I read it or I saw it filmed). It is suitable to grown ups as well. I guess she was part of the inspiration behind the main villain of my Path of Light (the other part being a song by Cradle of Filth).

My guess is that Lilith is a public domain character. Am I right? I would really love to have her in a gamebook of mine.


My guess is that Lilith is a public domain character. Am I right?

She’s from jewish folklore that goes back a thousand years or two, unless you have something more specific in mind.