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I want to write some reference books containing details about the fictional universe of some popular franchises, such as Tintin, or Star Trek. This would contain short plot summaries (1-paragraph in length) and various details about the setting and characters. The information would be similar to material found on On-line encyclopedias, such as Wooieepedia, but completely original writing. I would use only the original stories (e.g. books or episodes) from the franchise as the source for the information.

Can I write such a work or would I run into legal problems?

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You can write whatever you want. But how do you want to publish it? Online for free? A book which costs money? – John Smithers Mar 16 '12 at 12:09
I would find a publisher. This would be sold for profit. – Village Mar 16 '12 at 13:13
Ask for permission. IANAL, but even if it is legal what you are doing, I doubt that a publisher would risk being sued by the copyright holder of the universe. It's costly and it takes long, no matter if you right or wrong. – John Smithers Mar 16 '12 at 14:47
up vote 3 down vote accepted

A book discussing copyrighted and trademarked works can unquestionably be done. It has been done, many times; search on Amazon for unauthorized guide to and you'll see books on everything from Buffy to Barbie dolls. The only question here is, how much trouble is it to get permission? Do you even need permission to do a book which is, essentially, criticism and analysis?

I suggest consulting a lawyer, because even though this answer may very well be correct: Writing about something may well be legal. However, there's no way of getting around the fact that publishing a book like this would be using trademarked properties to make money. Even if it's not illegal, companies have to enforce their trademarks or they risk losing them. (Copyrights and trademarks are very different animals.)

At the very least, publishers might want to get permission, even if no money is involved, to avoid receiving a cease-and-desist. Knowing the answers to these issues would help smooth the way with potential publishers, although their legal department would likely deal with this once the book is sold. If you're self-publishing, however, wouldn't have that advantage.

Finally, since its obvious that this has been done and can be done (see that Amazon link), you could also attempt to contact the authors of other, similar reference works: See what they did, and how they did it. If nothing else, it will give you more information on the process.

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I am not a lawyer, so I defer to the next person's answer, but this is my instinct: you're fine.

It seems preposterous to me that it would be illegal to write ABOUT someone else's book. So long as you don't claim your book is any sort of "OFFICIAL" reference, and don't steal their logos for your cover, it should be okay.

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So, this is... a guess? – Neil Fein Mar 17 '12 at 5:59
:( you got me... – Aerovistae Mar 17 '12 at 6:07

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