Re: Copyright laws?

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OK, I don’t want to give anything away about what I’m doing, and I know that there are a lot of variables here. Just looking for general information.

I got an idea, an unofficial sequel to a book written in 1959. That’s 50 years ago, and the authior is dead. I THINK Penguin holds the rights to this book, but I’m not sure. These are my questions:

1. Do the copyrights on books expire after a certain amount of time, and if so how would you find out if it had?
2. What exactly is copyrighted in a book? For example can anyone use the names of the characters and locations in a copyrighted title?
3. How exactly would you go about getting permission to write a sequel to copyrighted material, and what kind of hoops could you expect to have to jump through?
4. Can you reference things in a copyrighted book, or quote from it, and if so what is the proper format for doing so? For example if you are writting a non-fiction book, and quoting things from another book, you use something like MLA.

There are probably aditional things I haven’t thought of asking, but if you have any idea how to answer any or all of these questions, I’d sure appreciate it if you would share the information! Even if all you could do was direct me to someone who could answer these questions, I’d be much obliged.

– Deathbliss