Q: I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I am having with the rights to a short story. I have been in touch with the relevant owners of the copyright and they have been told by the author’s estate they are not allowed to do anything with the rights to the story. However, what I am wanting to do with the story is not a direct adaptation — but more of an “inspired by.” What I am wanting to do is a 60 minute TV one off. The only thing I am desperate to hang on to is the short story’s “twist” and elements of the central dilemma. Where would I stand with moving ahead with different character names, different structure, but retaining the twist and profession of the central character from the short only – crediting only “inspired by”?
A: Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas – it protects the expression of ideas. This is a simple concept in theory, but applying it to a particular situation could be challenging. For several excellent, definitive, and thought provoking discussions of this topic, please see our blog.