Question 1: I'm writing a novel and I use the title of a famous song as my title. I also quote the entire song in my book. Is this copyright infringement?
Question 2: Can I use classic fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid) freely?
Question 3. Can I publish a book based on copyrighted characters? I want to write books using characters from a famous TV show and comic books, but I'm doing so independently of the TV show producers or the comic book creators.
Answer to Question 1I'm writing a novel and I use the title of a very old and famous song as my title. I also quote the entire song in my book. Is this copyright infringement? Could the song already be in the public domain?
Titles are not protected by copyright law. In some cases, titles are registered as trademarks, so you might want to double check on the trademark status of that title.
Use of quotes can be considered 'fair use' in some instances (these rules differ from country to country). Fair use is an exception to copyright infringement (i.e. you can quote with attribution without having to pay royalties to the copyright owner). In the US, they usually apply to non-fiction. HOWEVER, if you quoted the ENTIRE song, that's beyond fair use, and you'll have to get permission to use the song, and/or a license from the copyright owners. This might mean (depending on the terms of the license) a one-time fee or a fee plus a percentage of royalties from the sale of your novel. Or they might be happy to get free publicity by having the song appear in your book.
In general, always obtain permission before using quotes or samples from copyrighted work in your own work, particularly for fiction, as soon as possible, prior to publication of your work.
As to whether the song is on the public domain: it depends on how old the song is, and when and where it was published, whether it was registered, etc.. Copyrights are valid for the lifetime of the authors and 50 to 70 years (depending on the country, 70 years for the US) after the authors' death. There are other terms for certain types of works. Once the copyright has expired (for example the lyrics of the star-spangled banner), then you are free to use it at no cost. To check if the work is in the public domain, here are some useful resources:
- A very helpful table of works in the public domain according to the US copyright law: http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm
- To check if a work is in the public domain in the Europe: http://www.outofcopyright.eu/calculator.html
Answer to Question 2Can I use classic fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid) freely?
Very old fairy tales (by Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.) are already in the public domain. Copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author and 50-70 years after his/her death (depending on the country; in the US it is now 70 years after death, called the 'Mickey Mouse Protection Act'). So for very old works, the copyrights can be presumed to have expired. This doesn't allow you to plagiarize these works per se; it does allow you to use these works (e.g. publish a new picture book, etc) without having to get permission or a license to do so from the copyright owner/s.
Answer to Question 3Can I publish a book based on copyrighted characters? I want to write books using characters from a famous TV show and comic books, but I'm doing so independently of the TV show producers or the comic book creators.
Sounds like you're writing fan fiction. Copyright issues are murky with regard to fan fiction. Strictly speaking, names are not protected by copyright, but can be protected as trademarks. The idea of copyright protecting the character itself (who he/she is, what he/she does) is unclear.
As long as you don't sell your work and participate in fan fiction sites, you might be ok. But the best thing to do is always seek permission from the copyright owners as soon as possible and prior to publishing your work.
If you want to publish and sell your work outside the fan fiction space, then you'll need to get a license from the copyright owners (DC comics/ networks/ producers) to use their copyrighted (and often, trademarked) characters. This might mean a one-time fee only, or a fee plus a percentage of royalties you earn from your stories.