Writing with the Cthulhu Mythos: Legal Issues

WinstonP writes on this Yog-Sothoth thread about the legalities of writers using the Cthulhu Mythos.  This is a thorny question, but I’ll see what I can go to give you general guidelines for writing based on my best “I am not a lawyer and don’t play one on TV” knowledge.

The first and most important consideration is the project you’re working on.  Are you just writing something for yourself that won’t be posted or printed anywhere?  Nothing to worry about then.  Are you turning out a screenplay based on a Lovecraft story?  Even though HPL is likely public domain, you might want to get in touch with one of the Lovecraft estates – yes, there are more than one.  We’ll assume, though, that you’re just writing a short story or scenario set in the Mythos.

The next question is, whose work do you intend to use?  A good rule is that most Mythos elements from the original Lovecraft Circle – Azathoth, Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu, Gol-Goroth, the Necronomicon, Cultes des Goules, etc. – are free and available for use simply because so many people have used them.  I’d be more careful about elements that aren’t quite as core, especially when it comes to setting.  Placing a story in Smith’s Zothique or Howard’s Hyborian Age might require more caution.  Always make sure you track the creation back to its original author.  If you’re not sure who created a particular element, you should buy this book.

Beyond that, you’re best tracking down the author and asking permission.  Maybe they’ll say yes, and maybe they’ll say no, but at least you’ll know.  Be professional and respect their decision.

In an additional wrinkle, don’t forget that most role-playing game writing is done on a work-for-hire model.  That means that a character, monster, tome, etc. that appears in the game is likely the property of the company that publishes the work rather than the author.  The author will likely be tickled to hear about your decision, but he or she really doesn’t have the right to give you permission.

At any rate, these are the guidelines I try to use when creating.  If anyone has any questions, or wants to just declare something above completely wrong, please let me know.

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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