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The core point I would like to convey in a manuscript could be well demonstrated by a dialogue that Piglet and Winnie the Pooh could have had. If I had found a reference where they had such a conversation, I would have quoted and referenced it, but I did not.

What I want to do instead, is write a dialogue myself and add some footnote "A dialogue inspired by the writing of A.A. Milne".

Is this appropriate? Are there any copyright issues that I or the publishing journal should be concerned with?


Example:

Winnie the Pooh: Oh, Piglet, my dear friend, I was pondering something quite puzzling today.

Piglet: Oh, dear, what's bothering you, Pooh?

Winnie the Pooh: Well, Piglet, I was wondering if it's appropriate to extend stories, you know, like adding a bit of honey to a favorite tale.

Piglet: Oh, Pooh, do you mean like adding more adventures to the stories we love?

Winnie the Pooh: Exactly, Piglet! But, you see just for the joy of storytelling and sharing.

Piglet: Well, Pooh, I think it could be alright, as long as we respect the original and don't take away from its sweetness.

A dialogue inspired by the writing of A.A. Milne


Edit: I realize now that my original question encapsulates several different questions:

(1) regarding legal implications - according to the reference from @Buffy, it appears the "work is now in the public domain".

(2) appropriateness of using a quote - my intention was to include a brief quote at the beginning of the paper, akin to the example below, but it seems most readers may not appreciate this style.

(3) Writing a dialogue for Winnie the Pooh - the general sentiment was that it would not be easy, but if done well making up a quote is ok. (If you didn't like the example dialogue I put above, I apologize - I asked some generative AI to write my question as a brief conversation between the characters)

enter image description here

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    I can’t picture Pooh using the phrase “profit intentions” Nov 10, 2023 at 4:34
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    @nick012000 there's no misattribution here, the OP has clearly written "A dialogue inspired by the writing of A.A. Milne" (emphasis mine). Ohad, if this is for an Academic paper, please, please reconsider. I cannot imagine how using childish dialogue could ever be appropriate. I may be wrong, you might have found the exception, but...
    – terdon
    Nov 10, 2023 at 10:23
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    The problem with this is that it's not childish enough, @terdon. It doesn't have the feel of Winnie the Pooh to me.
    – TRiG
    Nov 10, 2023 at 11:47
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    Several comments and answers are highly skeptical of your premise; it would perhaps make sense to include more information about which academic discipline you are writing in. In a physics paper, certainly don't. Philosophy? Mmmmmmmaybe. Literature? Tell us more!
    – tripleee
    Nov 10, 2023 at 13:51
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    Echolng others' comments - don't do this because you're not very good at it. If done well and truly appropriate and very brief I think it would be legal and ethical. Nov 10, 2023 at 19:05

7 Answers 7

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For most uses in US, copyright on Winnie the Pooh has expired and the work is now in the public domain. But there are apparently some exceptions: Winnie the Pooh Is Now Public Domain, but Not as You Know Him


Let me add, for completeness, that the specific example might be allowed even for a copyrighted work, but the question is both complex and subtle in general. It is probably (probably) fair use. It probably (almost certainly) fails to reduce the value of the original, which is an important consideration. It is probably (probably) not going to be seen by the copyright holder, nor are they likely to care about it. A (much) longer such script would have more serious issues for a copyrighted work. But fair use is a judgement claim (judgement possibly made by a court) and copyright is usually a civil law (not criminal) matter.

But the answer here purposely addresses the question as asked and doesn't give a complete explanation of all issues around copyright as they don't apply to a work beyond copyright.

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    -1 because while this addresses the specifics of the question, making the question about Winnie the Pooh moot, it fails to answer "the question" in the greater scope: could an author "speak in the voice" of another author through that second author's characters?
    – JBH
    Nov 10, 2023 at 17:53
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    @JBH, actually this is truly a copyright question and nothing more. Such things are "derived works" and that is a right reserved for copyright holders. But once the copyright has expired, one can do what one likes. Ask Disney Corp.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2023 at 17:56
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    You're certainly right... but Disney is a bad example. They may lose each and every case involving expired copyrights... but they have the money to drive all but the largest antagonists away. But more to the point, the OP did not (apparently) know about the expired copyright and it's not expired worldwide. I'd hate for someone to read this answer and jump to a conclusion.
    – JBH
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:15
  • @JBH, I was referring to Disney's active copyrights. Don't try to do derived works from them. The link makes it clear the answer is about US copyright. As does my first sentence.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:23
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Imagine if I were to insert the following text in one of my academic papers:

We choose to prove Lemma 3.7 and do the other things described in the introduction, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to highlight the importance of the realizability of non-Riemannian hypersquares, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to publish in a high impact-factor journal.

— Inspired by the political philosophy of John F. Kennedy

Would you say that this text is appropriate? Personally I would say that whether appropriate or not, it is, for lack of a better word, lame. The inclusion of this text makes it seem like I am trying to make my paper seem more impressive than it is by hanging on the wisdom of a famous person and repurposing that wisdom in a way that lies completely outside of the context within which that wisdom was originally conceived, and in a way the famous person would undoubtedly not have approved of.

The same goes for your suggested dialogue. Ask yourself if (setting aside the copyright concerns) you would feel comfortable showing how "inspired" you are by the writing of A.A. Milne if he were alive today. What you perceive as a cute homage to your beloved writer will simply not be perceived in this way by your readers, nor would it have been perceived as such by Milne himself if he were alive.

If you really want to include imaginary dialogues in your paper as an expository technique, make up your own characters, as the mathematician and writer Ian Stewart does in many of his mathematical essays (for example those anthologized in his book Another Fine Math You've Got Me Into..., which I like a lot); but keep in mind that those essays were mostly written as recreational math columns for the journal Scientific American, so whether the dialogue format would be well-received in a peer-reviewed scholarly publication is an open question.

Edit - some additional thoughts:

  1. Some people here seem to think that my answer advocates for stodgy, dry academic texts that are devoid of any attempt at playfulness or whimsy. To clarify, I am not opposed to this sort of playfulness. The thing about OP's proposal that I was objecting to is the appropriation of someone else's playfulness (in the form of constructing a dialogue with a famous author's beloved characters). If OP wants to make up his own characters having a cute dialogue, I would withdraw my objection entirely. Of course, such a dialogue may end up being lame for reasons unrelated to the use of someone else's characters; or it may end up being delightfully cute and thought-provoking -- that would depend entirely on the quality of the writing, but the point is that it would in any case not be problematic in the way that OP's idea is problematic.

  2. In response to OP's edit citing an example of a quote at the beginning of a paper: again, I have no objection whatsoever to such quotes, and have used them myself (see here, here and here). But those are real quotes that the people you are "inspired by" actually said or wrote. That is totally different than inventing a dialogue or quote, which is a form of fan fiction - a respectable activity when done in certain contexts, but in the current context, not particularly impressive.

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    Of course this is a matter of taste; but I for one often enjoy these sort of conceits. Done well and used judiciously, they can leaven the tone and lighten the work of reading, not to mention making the paper stand out and stick in a reader’s memory better. They certainly can sometimes be overused or done badly, but I feel the converse sin is overwhelmingly more dominant in academic writing — writers erring on the side of caution, stodginess, formulaicness — so I’d be loth to discourage anyone trying to inject a little more imagination into their papers.
    – PLL
    Nov 11, 2023 at 9:56
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    @PLL to be clear, I wasn’t advocating for stodginess - far from it. I only said OP should invent his own characters rather than ride the coattails of someone else’s fertile imagination.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 11, 2023 at 19:58
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    Isn't the title Another Fine Math You've Got Me Into a clear paraphrase of Another Fine Myth and as such is supporting OP's intention? Nov 12, 2023 at 9:48
  • @AndrewSavinykh No, it is based on a line that used to be said by Oliver Hardy, of Laurel & Hardy. He said mess instead of math, and probably gotten instead of got. brainyquote.com/quotes/oliver_hardy_197526
    – toby544
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:21
  • @AndrewSavinykh I think toby544 is correct, but regardless, I don’t see how Ian Stewart’s book title can be seen as expressing a position on OP’s question, regardless of whom it is paraphrasing.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 13, 2023 at 1:56
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IANAL but it looks like the works of A A Milne are still under copyright in the UK (until 2026, 70 years after his death). So for international publication, you cannot rely on it being public domain in the US.

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    But this is not violating any of Milne's copyrights; it is not copying anything.
    – tripleee
    Nov 10, 2023 at 13:49
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    @tripleee Merely using a character from a copyrighted work can be a copyright variation, see for example sidebarsaturdays.com/2019/01/26/https-wp-me-p7vddb-eo . Like I said IANAL so I don't think it is helpful for me to speculate about whether this specific case constitutes a violation. But Winnie-the-Pooh is covered by copyright. Nov 10, 2023 at 14:10
  • While germane to the question, this doesn't answer the question. On the other hand, your comment response to Tripleee actually does answer the question.
    – JBH
    Nov 10, 2023 at 17:56
  • @EspeciallyLime: Using a character can be a copyright violation — but in this sort of instance, several of the fair use guidelines seem to very obviously apply (transformative nature; minimal quantity; minimal impact on the market of the original).
    – PLL
    Nov 11, 2023 at 10:23
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    The UK does not have a concept of "fair use"; it does have "fair dealing" which isn't actually defined in the Copyright Acts and relies on case law. However, "Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche does not infringe copyright in the work." (Section 30A(1)). This probably falls under pastiche. Nov 11, 2023 at 14:06
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Legally, you should be fine. While a little unusual, jokes conceits of this sort are used often enough in academic writing to give a pretty large sample size, and I’ve never heard of legal issues arising from them. Here are two examples of Winnie-the-Pooh references specifically from my field (pure mathematics): a 1979 paper by Peter Johnstone, and a 1988 book by Miles Reid, reissued 2012; both are pretty high-profile works by academic standards, so if the Milne copyright-holders ever pursued such uses, you’d expect them to have gone for these works. As other answers discuss, the legal situation is subtle in theory (Milne out of copyright in US, but not everywhere; fictional characters copyrightable in general; but this probably fair use) — but in practice, existing usage pretty strongly suggests this is safe.

Do think hard about its stylistic appropriateness. Conceits like this can be fun and effective when used well, but can be jarring and undermine your work if they miss the mark. This is definitely a matter of taste, and in general I enjoy and support such things — academic literature (at least in the sciences) errs overwhelmingly on the side of stuffiness and caution, and would be better if authors felt less inhibited about letting imagination and individuality into their work. But the light relief needs to serve the academic goals of the paper — so reflect on it carefully, and be ready to kill your darlings if you realise it isn’t working.

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  • I disagree that you should ignore legal issues, but the excerpt as presented is probably within fair use even for a copyrighted work. But it is a court that could make that determination as part of a lawsuit, unlikely as that seems. Ignoring legal issues isn't a safe, wise, or ethical position.
    – Buffy
    Nov 11, 2023 at 13:45
  • @Buffy: Going ahead with a clearly unlawful/unethical action just because lawsuits are unlikely would be unethical and unwise, I agree. But here the legal status (as per other answers) is “it might fall under the vague outer edges of the scope of this law, and it might put you in the firing line of deep-pocketed companies who aggressively push this law’s boundaries” — there seems little chance it’s actually unlawful, and no argument that it’s unethical in any other sense. So judging the risk based on actual history, then going ahead if one feels safe, seems to me sensible and not unethical.
    – PLL
    Nov 11, 2023 at 21:24
  • @DanRomik: I beg your pardon — I had read your answer as more negative than you meant it, I think. In that case I agree, our stances are not so far apart at all; I’ve removed the reference to your answer from mine!
    – PLL
    Nov 12, 2023 at 15:21
  • Thanks, and no worries.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 13, 2023 at 1:58
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The Easy Answer

As others have stated, copyright of Winnie the Pooh has expired in the U.S., so as long as you're publishing only in the U.S., you don't have a problem.

The Hard Answer

Use of another writer's intellectual property treads the very fine and often debated line of "fair use." Consider, for example, the controversy created by Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone. The copyright owners of Gone with the Wind sued the publisher of The Wind Done Gone on the basis that it was a derivative work. The publisher claimed that it was an original work and any copying (e.g., the names of characters, related circumstances, and the fictional "world" of the original story) fell under fair use.

What's important here is not who was right and who was wrong in that case. What's important is there may never be a cut-and-dried definition of what constitutes "fair use" and what is a "derivative work." I ran a micropublisher for about ten years, and after a bunch of research, my advice to authors was, "if you can live with out this, please do so, because anybody can sue anyone at anytime for any reason and this one happens to be reason enough that my little publisher must submit to demands because we can't afford the fight."

And that's the reality. It's convenient that you have a "loophole" here in the fact that U.S. copyright has expired. But as a matter of personal policy, I recommend that you avoid using someone else's intellectual property without their permission or the permission of the owners of the copyright. It's true that what you're doing may be OK, but the risk is that your belief doesn't actually matter. You can be sued because, frankly, the characters into whose mouths you're placing words not written by the original author don't belong to you.

Disclaimer: I am NOT an attorney, much less an intellectual property attorney. When it comes to using someone else's stuff without their permission, you should speak with an attorney first.

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    Sorry, but the "rights" to one's IP is meant, under law, to be of limited duration, not perpetual. This is true of both copyright and patent law. You can do what you like with Euclid on any work with expired copyright. That is why Disney fights (fought, actually) so hard to keep extending copyright protection on MM. You seem to suggest that it is impossible to use the IP of anyone who has died long ago. If the copyright has expired there are no 'owners of the copyright'.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:32
  • I won't downvote this, though I don't like it, since no harm would come to the OP from following it, though it is not actually a valid argument.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:32
  • If you're publishing a scientific paper then you are not "only publishing in the US".
    – N. Virgo
    Nov 12, 2023 at 2:26
  • @N.Virgo At the time my answer was posted, most of the current edits of the quesiton did not exist and it was unclear (very unclear) as to what, exactly, was being published.
    – JBH
    Nov 12, 2023 at 3:50
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Is this appropriate?

No, it is almost certainly not. If you are considering including lines like

Piglet: Oh, dear, what's bothering you, Pooh?

then it is clear that you could convey the information more clearly and concisely by writing in a normal way.

I guess you are trying to be light-hearted or humorous, but this is a bad idea. There is almost no chance that readers will find it entertaining. See Should academic papers necessarily carry a sober tone?

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    Not all readers are you. The successful book Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter has every chapter open with a dialogue between Achilles and the Tortoise, characters from Zeno's paradox; the paper Surreal numbers by Donald Knuth is entirely a dialogue between Alice and Bill, two characters in love stranded on a desert island, who discover surreal numbers. Obviously some readers enjoyed those.
    – Stef
    Nov 10, 2023 at 9:37
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    @Stef We are talking about journal papers, not books. Books can be completely different, of course. Surreal Numbers by Knuth is apparently a "mathematical novelette" and published as a 120-page book.
    – toby544
    Nov 10, 2023 at 13:35
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    I'm going to -1 because you're not actually answering the question. You're making a very valid point involving the "big picture," but that still makes it a comment, not an answer.
    – JBH
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:12
  • @JBH I did answer one of the two questions. I even quoted it at the start.
    – toby544
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:34
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    @toby544 indeed. Title+tag being "copyright" and the "appropriate" following the example misled me
    – JackRed
    Nov 11, 2023 at 8:01
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Legality is, at best, a secondary consideration. Allow me to answer with another (actual) quote:

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Answer the "should" first. Then look at "could."

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