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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Gems from Biographers' International 2021 Zoom conference

Links to BIO's excellent notes on what was discussed on various topics at the 2021 Zoom conference of Biographers International Organization (BIO):


One Subject, Three Ways: Agatha Christie Moderator Laurie Gwen Shapiro kicked off the session with the question, "How does the form chosen to tell a subject's life shape its content?" In this case, the subject was Agatha Christie. Exploring Shapiro's question were three panelists Zooming in from England and France


The Art and Technology of Interviewing Moderator James McGrath Morris and panelists Claudia Dreifus, Brian Jay Jones, and John Brady presented similar views about successful interviewing in this panel. They agreed that a biographer should find out as much as they can about the interviewee and be equally prepared when something unexpected arises in the conversation and pursue that topic. 


Researching Underdocumented Lives This panel continued the morning's plenary discussion, delving deeper into the particular challenges and rewards of researching overlooked and marginalized lives, particularly people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. Moderator Kavita Das kicked off the discussion by asking what drew the panelists to their subjects.


How to Pay for It, or Funding Your Biography Moderator Heath Lee started the session by noting that advances, even from major publishers, have been declining in recent years, and she hoped the panel (Carla Kaplan, Mark Silver, and Steve Hindle) would help biographers find other ways to finance their work.


Writing the First Biography of Your Subject Panelists Justin Gifford, Abigail Santamaria, and Carol Sklenicka, along with moderator Debby Applegate, explored some of the challenges and rewards of writing the first biography of a subject. With Raymond "Carver, Sklenicka heard there was a 'big rift' between his two former wives, which may have put off potential biographers. Publishers like to know that you have the cooperation of a subject's family or estate, but she said the lack of it is not necessarily a roadblock."

Swipe Right for Your Subject: How Do You Know It's the Right One?  Moderator Gayle Feldman asked panelists Mary Dearborn, Eric K. Washington, and Gerald Howard how they have chosen their subjects, quoting Jean Strouse: "If you want to do biography the right way, and get it right, you'd better have chosen the right subject." 

What Biographers Can Learn from Obituary Writers Along with Margalit Fox, moderator Bruce Weber and panelists Adam Bernstein and William McDonald have all written and/or edited obituaries.  Obits are "not the whole life" but "the kernel is there," making an obituary "a really good first stop" for a biographer.

Do I Know Enough? Navigating the Relationship Between Research and Writing Both Kai Bird, author of a recent biography of Jimmy Carter, and 2017 BIO Award-winner Candice Millard, working on a book on the search for the headwaters of the Nile, agreed on the need for extensive amounts of research before beginning to write, but once they reached that point, the two writers couldn't be farther apart on how they work.


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Are fictional characters protected under copyright law?

Let me know if I am missing anything relevant to and important about this topic.

Are Fictional Characters Protected Under Copyright Law? (Kathryn Goldman on Jane Friedman's blog, 7-14-21) Goldman, an intellectual property lawyer, writes: "Jack Ryan, the analytical, yet charming CIA analyst, made an appearance in federal court in Maryland earlier this year. The heirs to Tom Clancy’s literary legacy are fighting over him. Unlike in the movies, he’s not in a great position to fight back....

      "Here’s the crux of the current court battle: When Clancy mistakenly transferred his copyright in the book Red October to the original publisher, did the copyright to the character Jack Ryan go with it? Or did Clancy retain the character copyright? In normal practice, the sale of the right to publish a copyrighted story does not stop the author from using its characters in future works. "Courts have held, in certain circumstances, that fictional characters are protectable in their own right."...

     'The “well-delineated test” is the most widely accepted legal test used to decide whether a fictional character is protected by copyright, but it is not the only one....

      'A character is protected under the “story being told” test when he dominates the story in a way that there would be no story without him." An excellent account of the issues on an important topic. Be aware of the implications, especially if the character you create might appear in a movie one day.

Protecting Fictional Characters Under U.S. Copyright Law (Richard Stim, Nolo) Fictional characters can, under U.S. law, be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive. This is based on the legal theory of derivative copyrights. A survey of court cases, among other things.

Copyright protection for fictional characters (Wikipedia) An overview of the issues and court cases. "Historically, the Courts granted copyright protection to characters as parts of larger protected work and not as independent creations. They were regarded as ‘components in a copyrighted works’ and eligible for protection as thus. Recognition of characters as independent works distinct to the plot in which they were embodied came about only in 1930 in the case of Nichols v. Universal Pictures. Following Nichols, the American judiciary has evolved two main tests to determine whether a character in a work can be eligible for copyright protection": The Well-delineated test and the Story being told test.

Copyright in Characters: What Can I Use? Part I Bryan Wasetis, Aspect Law Group, 5-9-14) Learn how copyright law affects video game characters, and ways to avoid copyright infringement. The first part in a three-part series. See also Part II (12-22-15, What are fair use exceptions) and Part III (8-4-18), about characters and trademark.

Marvel and DC’s “Shut-Up Money”: Comic Creators Go Public Over Pay (Aaron Couch, Hollywood Reporter, 7-16-21) "The star writers and artists behind major comic book characters are becoming increasingly outspoken about "paltry" deals that don’t account for their work being adapted into billion-dollar blockbusters.... Conventional wisdom within the comic book industry is to go to Marvel and DC to build your personal brand, then leave, bringing that audience over to publishers that allow you to retain character rights....Creators working at Marvel and DC sign work-for-hire contracts granting the publishers ownership over their characters and storylines."

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