Have you ever read a book that was REALLY similar to another book, or seen a movie that was a flagrant re-skin of another movie, but was just different enough not to be suable?
There can be a lot of reasons for this (cash-grab, marketing piggyback, etc). Among my fellow creatives it’s frequently a matter of “I wrote a fanfic and it’s actually good but I don’t own the IP so I’ve got to switch some things around to sell the book.”
At this point you introduce a practice called “filing off the serial numbers,” i.e., removing the elements that are protected from someone else’s intellectual property, and doing enough to make it your own.
I can’t put an exact number on it, I’ve heard “twenty-five-percent-different” tossed around here and there, but basically if it’s similar to an existing thing, it has to be distinct enough so as to be clearly your own.
This isn’t the same as parody, which is protected under a different set of laws. Something like Amazon’s THE BOYS would work as a parody, since there are characters that clearly match up with Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Aquaman, Flash, and so forth.
I’m thinking more along the lines of Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s GALAXY’S EDGE series, which they had in print before Disney branded their Star Wars park with the same name. Cole and Anspach specifically advertise their books as “Star Wars Not Star Wars.” The first book is told from a not-stormtrooper’s POV.
You get a setting that’s similar to the original, but different enough to not be a copy or a rebrand.
I’ve done my own version of this thing a few times, namely with GUILD and KILL THE BEAST. Lately I’ve been trying to analyze my works and make them more original than they’ve been in the past. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as “the guy who writes things that are tweaked versions of more popular things.”
Certainly there’s fun to be had in doing it. I just don’t want it to be my only thing, or even my main thing.
But right now I find myself boxed up with my character Graveheart, from HOWLING WILDERNESS. No spoilers, but he’s got magic, and he uses it in a way that is…very similar to a superhero that I like. I had a couple of different ideas for his origin in the Engines world that I came to organically, and when those ideas all came together, I started to draw him up…and then I realized what I was doing.
It was incredibly frustrating because he’s SUCH A COOL CHARACTER. And he has a huge role to play in the Engines timeline and the DreadVerse at large. I just need to write up a list of details and rules for him so that he’s not just a flagrant copy of two other characters that I really enjoy.
Once I get this book finished and I write up the Afterword, I think it will all make sense. I just have to be thorough in scrubbing off the serial numbers. It’s frustrating because again, his origin is very organic and true to the world of Engines, it just ended up making a roadmap that takes him right up alongside an existing character in someone else’s IP.
Shoot…two characters, now that I think of it.
You’ll see. Back to work.