I got this question recently:

“I was wondering if you knew about legends/myths. If someone owns certain rights to old tales and legends.”

Literary works are only copy right able for a certain length of time. The exact time differs a bit from country to country and depends on the type of work involved, along with some other factors. If you have a specific work in mind, check with a copyright lawyer.

As a rule in the U.S.A. a copyright on a literary work lasts for 75 years. So basically anything that was written more than 75 years ago is probably in the public domain. So that would include all old tales, legends, fables, mythology, etc (assuming they were written or created more than 75 years ago). It would also include anything written by Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Jack London who were all writing more than 75 years ago.

I can’t answer your question specifically because I don’t know exactly what old tale you’re talking about – and I wouldn’t want to try anyway since I’m not a lawyer. But anything really old, like from ancient Greece or Rome is not owned by anyone and you can use it however you want in your own literary work. And if someone makes a movie based on, say, the story of Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey you can still make your own movie based on the same material. They don’t own the Odyssey just because they made a movie based on it. You can’t base your movie on their movie; meaning you can’t use anything that they’ve created or added to the story that’s unique or novel but you can write a script and make a movie based on the original material that’s in the public domain.

Again, you should always check with a lawyer for exact details on the property you want to adapt as I’m not a lawyer and my advice might not apply to your situation.