My ten-year-old son, W., is working on a short story for his language arts homework. His idea shares some elements of a book he's recently read, so he comes to me with his concerns. "Is that okay?" he asks, after giving me a synopsis of the story.
"You cannot copyright an idea," I tell him. I use the Cinderella story as an example. "Did you know that in the original French fairy tale, Cinderella's shoes were not made of glass at all? They were made of fur." I say the words "vair" and "verre" to show him how easy it would be to confuse glass and fur. "Maybe the translator knew, but thought it made for a more fanciful, romantic story if her shoes were made of glass. Anyway, you cannot use certain elements unique to Disney's 'Cinderella,' but you can retell it in your own words, your own way. Just steer clear of characters Disney created for their version."
"Like what? Like the glass slippers?"
"That, maybe, and a mouse named Gus-Gus, a cat named Lucifee, all the singing, the birds always twittering around, helping Cinderella sew..."
"So, other than the vermin in the shoes, everything was the same?"
Thinking back on that, I think he must've said "vermin and the shoes." Either way, it sounded terribly funny coming from a ten-year-old.