This little piggy went to an intellectual properties attorney
January 25, 2006 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Are classic tales such as "Three Billy Goats Gruff", "The Tortoise and the Hare", and "Little Red Riding Hood" in the public domain and available to be reused?

More specifically, could they be reimagined without risking copyright infringement... and by "reimagined" I mean, "retooled to have different animals, but within the same story." Is there a place where I can check which stories are and are not in the public domain?
posted by bjork24 to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
All, or at least 127 of Hans Christian Andersen's tales are in the public domain.

I think all of Grimm's works are too. The only ones to be careful of are Peter Pan and Poo.
posted by furtive at 10:16 AM on January 25, 2006

Wikipedia is a pretty good resource if you're unsure of a particular title. Pretty much anything that's an old-time fairy tale or one of Aesop's fables or from the Brothers Grimm is definitely in the public domain. Gregory Maguire does this all the time.
posted by Gator at 10:18 AM on January 25, 2006

Here's a guide for folktale retellers that you may find helpful.
posted by amro at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2006

"Fairy Tales" by the Grimm Brothers, which includes "Little Red-Cap" and "Hansel and Gretel", is listed and available on Authorama. Authorama is a public domain book site, so it looks like you're in the clear.
posted by sellout at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2006

Check the Project Gutenberg website for a ton of public domain books and stories. All available in plain text format.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2006

Just make sure you distinguish between "story" in the public domain and the version, translation, etc. All of the above stories are in the public domain, but if you were to, let's say, do Snow White and the Seven Dwarves using modifications or characters in the Disney version, you would be sued.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2006

Unless you did so for the sake of satire. You probably still would get sued (by Disney, who are court happy), but satiric uses of existing art is not considered to a violation of copyright.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on January 25, 2006

The Tortoise and the Hare was originally one of Aesop's Fables, so you should be pretty safe with that.
posted by normy at 12:32 PM on January 25, 2006

Also notable from Project Gutenberg is that they accept anything with a copyright date prior to 1923 as being in the public domain in the US. Which is not to say that everything with a copyright date of 1923 or later is still copyrighted, but if it was published before 1923 you should be fine, at least in the US.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2006

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