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I'm making a story-intensive game (RPG) for the iPhone and want to distribute it over the AppStore. But AppStore Apps have the potential to be distributed internationally, so I need kind of legal advice - maybe someone of the independent developers here was already in a similiar situation.

I'm planning to use an book (i.e. classic literature, world literature or fairytales) as foundation for the storyline of my game: So what are the basic conditions, if I dont want to run into big problems? I heard about 70 years after first publishing (or after death of the author?) a book would be "out of copyright" - but is that true for every country? Could I get problems in the App Store?

My Background: It doesn't seem economical to pay a scenario writer for my game (no budget) - and myself isn't "talented" so much in this field. But there are already tons of great stories out there, which never get a game release so far. Because of that, I was thinking: "Why not use this, instead of making a crap story by myself"...

I know that I can't get here a reply from a lawyer - but I hope for tips from other independent developers with experience in such cases...)

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Why not just make an adaptation or even a comedic work based on the book? – Robert Massaioli Mar 31 '11 at 3:33

It can get very complicated. Have a read of for example.

You should seek specific legal advice from a professional on your situation.

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Along the same lines of what Adam said, you will want to get very specific with this. Pick a specific story and then see if it is available in the public domain. Otherwise this is too broad of a question to answer and it can get tricky with authors assigning their books over to estates to get extended renewal rights and such.

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I'm not sure about international public domain, but there are ways you can circumvent this problem entirely. Certain things, like for instance most fairytales are completely public domain. Another route you may consider are the ancient mythologies. This would be the way I would go. Zeus, Thor, Hades et al are all free to use without restriction.

EDIT: As jhocking pointed out, using a subsequently copyrighted version of these characters is NOT permissible.

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As long as you don't use the Disney version of Hades or the Marvel comics version of Thor! Seriously, I once saw a guy try to claim that his game about a blonde clean-shaven Thor is legally fine because Thor is a Norse legend. – jhocking Sep 13 '14 at 13:14

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