Can anyone write Cthulhu Mythos material? - Page 2
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  1. #11
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    The status of Lovecraft's writing as regards copyright are indeed pretty muddled, but as far as I've been able to tell... most everything he wrote seems to be in the public domain. At least... until someone comes along with a legitimate claim to that copyright... and while all indications are that no such claim exists (at least... no paperwork to prove it seems to still exist), that doesn't mean that it's a closed case.

    For the Lovecraftian elements we've included in Pathfinder (and those elements have also drawn from the writings of other authors involved in that scene, like Frank Belknap Long and Algernon Blackwood), we have been in contact with Chaosium and make sure to point our readers back at them if they're looking for more info about Cthulhu in gaming... as is only right and proper, to be honest, because Chaosium REALLY understands this stuff and their work with Call of Cthulhu is up there with the best in the industry. In some cases it IS the best in the industry.

    Certainly Lovecraft himself would approve; he encouraged other writers to use his creations in their stories (which is why you'll see familiar names pop up now and then in stories by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, etc.). Furthermore, the tradition of building on the mythos continues to this day, with writers like Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lulmley, Colin Wilson, Neil Gaiman, and countless others building on the mythos and expanding it further with their own inventions. All of this is a huge part of why the Lovecraft Mythos has gained such a powerful foothold; it's really become its own myth cycle, to be honest, which is a big part of the reason why certain monsters that tie into the mythos seem to be more "legit" than ones that don't.

    Anyway... it IS a relatively tangled legal mess, and I've found that even when utilizing elements that are 99.999% likely in the public domain, it's best to secure the blessing of those who have gone before you.

    And as for the original Deities & Demigods snafu... that wasn't actually legal trouble that got the Cthulhu and Elric stuff taken out, but certain members of TSR management who didn't want what they felt was a free advertisement for the competition in one of their products.

  2. #12
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    Given the registration requirements of US copyright when Lovecraft was writing, it looks like most of his work, like RE Howard's, was never copyright protected to begin with, so the mooted 75 year copyright term is very unlikely to apply. As an IP lawyer I'd advise anyone trying to enforce rights in the 'mythos' (or Conan) to rely on Trade Mark law, not copyright.

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Jacobs View Post
    And as for the original Deities & Demigods snafu... that wasn't actually legal trouble that got the Cthulhu and Elric stuff taken out, but certain members of TSR management who didn't want what they felt was a free advertisement for the competition in one of their products.
    LOL! Wow, I never knew that. I do remember reading that Michael Moorcock, who certainly does own copyright in the Elric stories, happily gave permission, not realising he'd given Chaosium exclusive RPG rights already.

  4. #14
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    The one thing I have heard is that Chaosium holds a trademark for "Cthulhu Mythos" and I do believe most problems have arisen because of the use of this phrase.

  5. #15
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    It's really kind of a shame that this is such a complicated issue... From what I understand, Lovecraft was quite open with his creations and in fact actively encouraged others to use them and expand the mythos. I suspect that were he still around, he'd want everyone to share and share alike.

  6. #16
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    Be very careful about commissioning art for Cthulhu stuff; many of the images with which we are familiar were created by Arkham or Chaosium are some specific elements might be considered part of a trademark. For instance, if you wante to illustrate Cthulhu, I would strongly suggest going back to the original works for inspiration rather than working from Chaosium illustrations.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by pawsplay View Post
    Be very careful about commissioning art for Cthulhu stuff; many of the images with which we are familiar were created by Arkham or Chaosium are some specific elements might be considered part of a trademark. For instance, if you wante to illustrate Cthulhu, I would strongly suggest going back to the original works for inspiration rather than working from Chaosium illustrations.
    Also an excellent point. It is indeed pretty complicated.

  8. #18
    According to a basic search on the Trademark Electronic Search System, at http://www.uspto.gov/, there are only two active trademarks on Cthulhu. One is The Call of Cthulhu, held by Chaosium, which applies to "rules book and supplements for playing a fantasy roleplaying game." The second is The Cthulhu Cult Collector's Edition, held by Visceral Pictures of Tarzana, California and applies to "prerecorded digital video discs, prerecorded video cassettes, prerecorded compact discs and written explanatory material, namely, pamphlets sold therewith, featuring movies based on stories of the author known as HP Lovecraft."

    Chaosium also held the trademark Cthulhu for President, but abandoned the mark in August 2006.

    It appears, then, as long as your role-playing game material does not build upon work copyrighted by Chaosium (which would include original fiction and game text, etc.) or use the phrase "The Call of Cthulhu" there would be no conflict.

    Cthulhu Mythos does not appear to be trademarked.

    On the other hand, I'm not a trademark (or any kind of) lawyer. But one could assume if it was a registered trademark in the US, it would be in the database of US trademarks maintained by the US government.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by pawsplay View Post
    Be very careful about commissioning art for Cthulhu stuff; many of the images with which we are familiar were created by Arkham or Chaosium are some specific elements might be considered part of a trademark.
    To heck with them being part of a trademark - the images are apt to be covered by copyright themselves. The source stories has gone into the public domain, but not the far more recent images.

  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by pawsplay View Post
    Be very careful about commissioning art for Cthulhu stuff; many of the images with which we are familiar were created by Arkham or Chaosium are some specific elements might be considered part of a trademark. For instance, if you wante to illustrate Cthulhu, I would strongly suggest going back to the original works for inspiration rather than working from Chaosium illustrations.
    Recently created artwork (probably all Chaosium art) is copyright protected. That it's derivative of HPL's work is unlikely to prevent this.

    Trade Mark law only apples to marks that indicate the origin of goods and services, so I doubt much if any of this art is actually TM-protected.

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