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How much is it ok to "borrow" from an established universe?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by hots_towel, Nov 8, 2013.

  1. hots_towel

    hots_towel Minstrel

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    So a friend and I are co-writing a comic book. We were discussing a certain kind of magic and how it works, and the ideas were flowing so well. Everything made so much sense and we were so excited. Then, it hit me. The reason everything fit so well and sounded so good was because we basically just described "the Force" from star wars.

    Since then we have been working hard on how to distinguish this piece of the story from the force, but its hard work. Even after revising it, it has that vibe that makes you think of the force when you understand the basic elements of how our form of magic works.

    So I ask, how much is it ok to borrow. I know theres no official scale of measuring what is too much or too little, but if you guys could ive me some examples if your stories or others when there are similarities that no one seems to notice/care about i would greatly appreciate it
     
  2. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    The Force has its roots in Eastern mysticism. I've read that Lucas based the Jedi off of the Samurai.

    An energy field greater than all of us that makes the universe "work" is not an original idea. It is present in modern religions as Chi, Gaia, and The Holy Spirit. Most ancient civilizations -- and even "un-civilizations" like the American Indians -- believed on the existence of usable energies superior to those of the everyday world.

    Call it something else and roll with it. You're good.
     
  3. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I think this is the sort of question our resident copyright lawyer should weigh in on.

    Paging Steerpike... please pick up the white courtesy phone...
     
  4. hots_towel

    hots_towel Minstrel

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    thanks for the replies guys. very informative, and it looks like i have some homework to do haha
     
  5. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I think as long as you don't electrocute people with force lightning, choke people merely by flexing you hand or throw things across the room to collide with a person, you'll be fine.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you call it "The Force," I suppose you're closer to having a problem. Kind of a difficult think for Lucas Arts/Disney to protect, though you wouldn't want to spend the money fighting them if they were ticked.

    I can't think of any legal reason you couldn't have a magic system that works like the force. Legalities aside, you might have readers going "Wait a minute, this is The Force!"
     
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    One of my personal favourite quotes on these matters is: "Talent borrows, genius steals."
    The origin of the quote is uncertain (google it).

    To me, it basically means that it's okay to use the ideas of others, as long as you do it well.
     
  8. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    When it comes to certain basic concepts of magic being a universal flow of energy, be it the Force or chi or what-have-you, the concept can't be copywrited (Steer, please correct me if I'm wrong here), only the name you use for it. In our books we have characters throwing rocks and using magic to choke people - might even get around to throwing lightening, I'm not sure yet but I'm not writing it off just because the character in question has actually SEEN Star Wars (we write urban fantasy). We just call it magic and go on with our day. You call your system whatever you want to and make it your own. You're not trying to re-write Star Wars.
     
  9. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Actually, go ahead and re-write episodes I, II, and III. No one will mind. :cool:
     
  10. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    Except Jar Jar's agent.
     
    Malik likes this.
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Svrtnsse, such a missed opportunity...

    You could have written:

    I came up with this quote, "Talent borrows; genius steals."

    I'm a genius.

    Just a thought...
     
  12. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Or at least could someone have beaten Lucas about the head and shoulders with a good editor? Somebody to just say, "No, stop, you're being stupid?" Srsly. /end rant
     
  13. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Besides, everyone knows Lucas stole the idea of telekinesis from Stephen King and Carrie. --No, he probably didn't exactly, but TK has been a major presence in fantastic fiction since about that time (and before then too, of course).

    Mostly this is the standard advice that you should only worry a little about being "unoriginal" and more about the story succeeding on its own. But in particular, I'd say you might emphasize the differences in not what your magic does but in what people do to make it happen and how that might limit it. Because the former is hard to find new things for, but the latter isn't. (Limits especially are what Sanderson's Second Law says is the most fun.)

    Just look at Avatar. People were saying "Oh God, not another 4 Elements concept!" twenty years before the show came out (I've got that in writing in a comics lettercol), but tying bending to martial arts kata made it distinctive. At least, different enough when the story and the world just plain worked.
     
  14. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    He also stole large parts of the story from Celtic mythology. For example, the warrior with the artificial hand is from Nuada Airgetlam (literally, Nuada silver hand/arm) and the bad guy being related to the good guy is eerily similar to the Balor story, where Balor was to be defeated by his grandson (so Lucas made it his son instead of his grandson).

    I guess none of the Celtic gods had copyrighted their ideas. Maybe they got their revenge by making Episodes 1, 2, and 3 suck.
     
  15. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Or, we could go the Arthuriana route. King Arthur, granted the good guy here, was defeated by his son Mordred. If I turn around to my reference library I could probably pull out a dozen bad guy related to the good guy stories, easy. And so much more... myth and legend feed our modern story machines, creating a modern mythos, just as they should.

    Like I'm always saying, it's ALL in the execution.
     
  16. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    Another place Lucas borrowed from was apparently Isaac Asimov. The vision of Coruscant as a single world-spanning city was first proposed (as far as I can find) by Asimov for his capital world Trantor in Foundation which was published in 1951.

    I guess there are truly no new stories under the sun, just new storytellers. :)
     
  17. oyler44

    oyler44 Dreamer

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    Magic itself is an entity that is used to so many books and in so many forms it is hard NOT to use an idea twice. Honestly the way the Force is described is the world is made up of small particles called midiclorians (Spelling sucks) and that everything is made up of them. This directly ties to nearly EVERY style of writing featuring "Wild Magic" or "Magic of the Earth". On top of that, the ability to manipulate the particles or matter in general is a direct representation of Psionic energy manipulating which alot of people believe is real. The combination of those 2 things is what Lucas dreamed up as the force. Utilizing these 2 things together wouldn't be copyrighting unless you called it the force and made Vader choke people. They are so commonly themed in texts these days that if someone actually accused you of copyrighting, you would have rights to laugh it off.
     
  18. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    In an email this morning one of my beta readers told me, "I loved it. A Connecticut Yankee in Westeros."

    I don't take anything from Martin's universe but he also has a gritty, tough world with low magic, heartless rulers, and a dynamic geopolitical situation.

    There is nothing new. Write what you write and write it as well as you can. Then go back and write it better.
     
  19. ecdavis

    ecdavis Troubadour

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    I'd just use your magic system and, as one said here, don't do any 'Star Wars' type stunts or call it 'The Force'. It would seem logical to have a magic system like that, though many cultures thought that magic focused through an object or objects. Nature, trees, the Pharaoh, chanting certain holy words, and so forth. I always felt that Star Wars was more of a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction. But think back to Mr. Spock -- he had various things he could do with his mind and by putting fingers on the side of heads. Sure, now we just think 'big deal, he's a psionic', but back in the late 60s it seemed really cool.

    He was a really magical kind of a guy: his mother with blood iron based, his father with blood copper based ('Green blood') yet they conceived him. Not too scientific there.

    As for Star Wars, I liked Episode 1 (except Jar Jar of course) but not 2 and 3. I'm not too happy with Disney owning the rights now -- I keep wondering if now that Princess Leia is a Disney Princess if we'll see her at Disney World with the others...
     
  20. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Leia was always a Disney girl. That wasn't a hairdo on the sides of her head, it was Minnie Mouse ears folded down. :)
     
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