The Mail I Get

I got this long, rambling email today.  Here are parts of it (I’ve removed the title of the book as a courtesy):

I am curious. As a published author myself, ("XYZ" Available at and in stores in September) I was under the
belief that derivative works are the copywriter of the orginating copyright
holder. That basically Atlantis ASV belongs to Amblin/Universal
Entertainment. So my question is this: being the writer of seaQuest (which by
the way I happened to like, althought the final season was
disapointing)i found it odd that you gave them permission to continue with
their copyright infringment…

.. I am in the process of creating a similar work on the world in which
‘XYZ’  takes place. It will deal with animosities from a regime
change and a country that patrols the seas. The ships will be similar to
seaQuest (actually to the tech difference they are actually closer to Deep
). Since my work is for profit, I don’t want to appear like I am
palagrising seaQuest, its derivatitve Atlantis or Deep Angel...

…So to wrap this long winded question: Where would you draw the line. How far
from preexisting story do I have to be to outside your window?

Here is how I replied. No offense intended, but you are a self-published author… that
is very different than being a "published author." That said, the rights to
SEAQUEST belong to Universal Television/Amblin. I didn’t give anyone permission
to do derivative works based on the series, nor could I, because SEAQUEST
doesn’t belong to me. 

The author of Atlantis can’t publish and sell his work without getting a
license from Universal, otherwise he faces the likelihood of legal action
against him by the studio. If your book is based on SEAQUEST, you would presumably face the
same risk.

I got this email from him in reply:

Thank you for your response. I know that the publishing world
mostly considers self publishing to be ‘vanity’ publishing. That don’t
bother me. And no it isn’t. My sub can fly in space because the tech level
of the world is more Babylon 5/Star Trek than seaQuest.

Huh? I have no idea what he’s talking about. I didn’t reply to this one, because it would obviously be a waste of time. But I find it fascinating that his  frame of reference for his original work is the technology of other science fiction TV shows (or fanfic based on the TV shows). What is the "tech level" of BABYLON 5 vs  STAR TREK vs SEAQUEST Fanfic? And why would anyone care? If you’re writing an original sf novel, it exists in its own world, the one you’ve created.

2 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. “Tech level” is a term from roleplaying games like GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System). It’s used to distinguish the technological advancement of various societies throughout time and space (for SF games) from each other. From the use of that jargon, I’d guess your correspondent is a player.
    Anyhow, your point is dead on. SF universes just need to be internally consistent to work. The correspondent has it backwards, using the tag (tech level) as cause rather than as a descriptor. (Ouch. I’m such a geek.) 😉

  2. “Tech level” may have originated in GURPS (or Traveller, etc.), but it has become a general way of describing – well, tech levels – in SF.
    Whatever else can be said of the emailer’s work or originality, I take that statement as simply a handy shorthand way of saying that his technology includes starships, a la Trek and B5, whereas the technology of Seaquest (about which I know nothing) presumably does not.
    He might actually come up with an original setting if he plausibly explains why starships in his universe are designed to also operate underwater, or “subs” to operate in interstellar space!
    He also raises a broader question of interest. I suspect that a lot of us, at least as kids, begin by creating worlds shamelessly ripped off from books, TV shows, etc. Even as our worlds take on a life of their own, they surely retain traces of their origins.
    At what point can we say that a created world is sufficiently independent that it is no longer derivative from someone else’s work, but merely “influenced” by it?
    — Rick


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