Copyright etc. (Response to Katie)

Katie, in the comments earlier this week, asked:

Congratulations on beginning a new book!

I wanted to ask a question about writing also. One of my kids loves the flower fairies (Cicely Mary Barker illustrations) and is writing stories about them. She mentioned that she would like to get them published when she is finished. My question is how to go about finding out if the illustrations, or the idea of the fairies itself, is copyrighted or in the public domain. I don’t know that dd’s work will actually be published, but I thought it was a good idea to find out if there are any restrictions. Where do you look for information like that?


Copyright is one of the trickiest laws to track down and comprehend. I’ve been immersed in discovering the rules for what constitutes “fair use” versus “copyrighted” material for years (especially since I do draw on the texts of published works for my materials!).

My dad, conveniently, is a lawyer and I finally asked him some point blank questions to help me out. For your purposes, let me assure you that anything your daughter does in the privacy of her own use (family, friends) is not in danger of violating copyright law. If she goes for publication, the illustrations will have nothing to do with her writing. She can’t recommend or include illustrations in her submissions because publishers keep illustrators and writers separate from each other, like keeping pit bulls and two year olds apart. The publisher will pick an illustrator, not your daughter.

The main issue would be whether or not she is using the exact characters from the original series or if she is creating new ones from scratch inspired by the books she read. If it’s the latter, she’s fine. If it’s the former, then she would have to have permission to use the original characters in her new stories. That would be something your publisher would need to work out with the other publisher (obtaining permission). That step alone would likely put the ka-bash on publishing your daughter’s work (since she is a virtual unknown). So I’d help her to think of original characters.

Good question! Good luck!

One Response to “Copyright etc. (Response to Katie)”

  1. Katie says:

    Julie, thanks so much for answering my question!