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Q: Who owns the character rights to the character base in the Firefly TV series? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Who owns the character rights to the character base in the Firefly TV series?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Television
Asked by: gecko68-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 04 Apr 2006 04:34 PDT
Expires: 04 May 2006 04:34 PDT
Question ID: 715282
The TV show Firefly, and Movie Serenity are the works of Joss Wheadon.
I am trying to determine, for fanfiction writers, who owns the rights
to the "characters" of those movies.
I know Fox owns the TV Series. I know Universal owns the Movies. I
know Mutant Enemy is the production company. And I know Joss himself
encourages fan fiction.

But who has the right to actually permit people to make money off of it.

Request for Question Clarification by politicalguru-ga on 04 Apr 2006 06:22 PDT
Dear Gecko, 

I have checked out the copyright situation for this. May I say, that
in general (and this is not exception) - fan fiction is regulated
through the copyright holder, and there is no specific "copyright "
only for the characters. I can tell you who's the copyright holder
(one of those mentioned), but it is such a short answer that I
hesitate to post it.

Clarification of Question by gecko68-ga on 04 Apr 2006 08:29 PDT
political guru, 

I am trying to determine, the following. 
If you create fanfiction that uses characters created by another
person (Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk,etc) you'd need permission from
the rightful owners to profit from the works...(licensing)

If you create new characters within the universe created by them, does
that also require licensing, or a notice "Based on the characters
created by Joss Whedon."

I know Fox owns the rights to Firefly, and licensed it to Universal.
But do they own the Firefly Universe, or the "TV series" firefly or
Firefly and any likeness.

Clarification of Question by gecko68-ga on 04 Apr 2006 08:33 PDT
Political Guru, 
Worst case scenerio, find me a way to Reach Joss Whedon's people so I can discuss.
Subject: Re: Who owns the character rights to the character base in the Firefly TV series?
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 04 Apr 2006 08:53 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

The Firefly TV series was created as a "employer for hire" work, which
means that Fox holds the copyright, even though Joss Whedon co-wrote
the show.

You can see an example of this from the records at the US Copyright Office:

Registered Works Database

Item 1 of 1 

1. Registration Number:    PAu-2-681-455  
Title:    The train job / written by Joss Whedon & Tim Minear. 
Description:    54 p. 
Series:    Firefly ; episode no. 1AGE01 
Note:    TV script. 
Claimant:    Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (employer for hire) 
Created:    2002 
Registered:    26Jul02
Title on  Application:    Firefly series. 

In order to get clearance for using the Firefly characters -- or for
any other discussion of use of Firefly materials -- you can contact
Fox at:

as described in their copyright protection (terms of use) policy:

I trust this information fully answers your question.

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If there's anything more I can do for you, just post a Request
for Clarification, and I'm happy to assist you further.


search strategy -- searched US Copyright Office and sites for [ firefly ]

Request for Answer Clarification by gecko68-ga on 04 Apr 2006 09:34 PDT
Thank you for your answer. 
I did a preliminary search and did not find, Malcolm Reynolds, or
Hoban Washburn listed in the copyright listings.

These are characters IN the scripts that are copyrighted. 
Now, IF the characters are protected by the copyright law, just for
being in the script, then in turn, I can create a story that includes
6 billion computer generated name variations, copyright it, and if
anyone uses those names in a story, sue them.

Otherwise, the script, the story itself is whats copyrighted and the
characters themselves are not, and can be used in works of fiction.

If I am wrong, please elaborate.

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 04 Apr 2006 10:40 PDT
Thanks for the follow-up question.

Copyright protection not only prohibits direct, verbatim copying of a
work, but also includes a category of protection known as "derivative

That is, to put it as plainly as I can, if you come up with a work
that has the look and feel of an existing work, you might be

A good discussion of this is here:
Derivative Works

and specific discussion of character use is here:
Question: Can I take a character from a movie, like Chewbacca from
Star Wars, and use it in a play with a very different plot and
otherwise different characters?

If you read the above link, you'll see the answer is generally "No"
(even though individual characters from a story aren't themselves
registered with the copyright office).

Your example of copyrighting a book with a billion name combinations
isn't really relevant here, since use of one or more of the names
would not, by itself, replicate the look and feel of your work.  I
can't imagine a context in which a court would construe such use as

Please be reminded that Google Answers isn't a legal advice service --
see the disclaimer at the page bottom -- so take all this with the
appropriate grains of salt.

Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you.

gecko68-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Did a very thorough job of researching specifics.

Subject: Re: Who owns the character rights to the character base in the Firefly TV series?
From: kirat1234-ga on 04 Apr 2006 08:55 PDT
I don't have specific knowledge about how the rights fall with the
Firefly TV series, but based on the what you're saying about Fox
owning the TV series, it seems likely to me that licensing rights
would be controlled by Fox Licensing & Merchandising, the division
that handles licensing for Fox properties. At least that's a place to

Fan-fiction is a grey area. It is against copyright law to create
derivative works based on copyrighted material. Creating new stories
based on others characters--the essence of fan fiction--certainly
qualifies as a derivative work. That said, many proprietors turn a
blind eye to the practice.

But when fan-fiction writers start talking about how to go about
getting official permission to write authorized books and stories,
often the sad truth is that they shouldn't bother. Roger MacBride
Allen wrote an insightful piece on the process of media tie-in writing
(available here: ) Few (if any)
media tie-in books originate by the writer securing rights from the
proprietor and then finding a publisher. Most happen by the media
company licensing rights to a publisher, then the publisher finding a
writer known to them who can write the material needed.

Roger MacBride Allen's example is STAR WARS, but honestly, the picture
he paints is surely just as relevant for any media property.
Subject: Re: Who owns the character rights to the character base in the Firefly TV series
From: politicalguru-ga on 04 Apr 2006 09:45 PDT
Gecko - It's too late, I has an appointment. What I wanted to say is
that characters in fanfic, even if they only use the universe created
by the author, still have to pay royalties or get to an arrangement
with the copyright owner. The characters are part of a script, which
is protected.

For example, if I use the term "Hobbits" (and other Tolkienian terms),
even if I have other characters than Bilbo et al. (or I would try to
tell the story of some minor character), I would need permission.

In this case, the royalties for the TV series fanfic lies within the
claims of 20th Century Fox.

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