All LNH characters fall into one of several usability categories. These are usually chosen by the character's original creator to define how the character can be used by other Writers. Note that this doesn't affect legal copyright status; it's more of a courtesy thing than anything else. A character's owner can change their usability status at any time.
Reserved: This means one of two things:
- The owner of these characters doesn't want other writers to use them. (You can still ask, but don't be surprised by a "No".)
- A writer has reserved a Not Reserved or Free For Use character temporarily, as they'll be using them in a story and other writers using them would be problematic. They return to their previous status when the writer is done, and if the writer goes out of communication for over a year, they automatically go back.
Reserved, but Usable With Permission: If you want to use them for anything more than a brief cameo (even then it's still polite to ask first), ask the owners for permission. Most people will allow you to use them; often, they'll ask that you send a copy of the work to check over first. Some people will say "No". Please respect that.
This is the default category for new characters; a writer has to explicitly declare their characters to be in a lower category.
Not Reserved: The creator of these characters is still using them, but hey, you can use them too! However, you should ask before making any changes to them.
Free For Use: These characters have been given up to the common toy box. Use them whenever and however you like! However, as these characters are a common resource, after you're done using them, you should generally leave them in a state where they can be used by others.
- Level 1: Public Domain Characters:
- Level 2: Usable Without Permission Characters:
- These are characters that are owned by a particular writer, but the writer doesn't care if people use the character without permission. The owner can, at any time, shift the character to another level. All members of the LNH in Looniverse Y, as well as members of the System Corrupters, are either Usable Without Permission or Public Domain.
- Level 3: Need to Ask Permission First Before Using Characters:
- These are characters where you need to ask the owner permission first if you're planning on using them. If the owner of the character is unreachable, don't use this character. These characters aren't allowed to be members of the LNH or System Corrupters.
- Level 4: Don't Touch this Character, And Don't Bother Asking for Permission:
- These are characters where it probably would be a pointless exercise to ask for permission to use. But don't let that stop you. These characters aren't allowed to be members of the LNH or System Corrupters.
- The reason for the rule that all members of the LNH in Looniverse Y have to be usable without permission is to solve the whole 'what happens to a character once their writer leaves' dilemma.
- In the classic LNH, what characters are okay to use has always been one of biggest Flame War starters. Certain Public Domain characters, like Cheesecake-Eater Lad and Doctor Stomper, aren't really Public Domain characters. They're characters whose creators kind of abandoned them and it eventually just became acceptable to use them without permission. A lot of the old-timers in the classic LNH know which characters they can use without permission without worrying about a writer coming back to bite their head. A lot of the ethics around this are rather murky.
- In the LNHY imprint, you don't have to worry about this, because all members of the LNH are usable without permission.
LNH20 characters fall under yet another system, taken and simplified from the above:
- General Use: You can use these characters in your story without asking their creator. You should still ask if you want to make some major change that will affect how the character is used going forward.
- Ask Before Using: Self-explanatory; you need to ask for permission before using these.
- Reserved: The creator doesn't want anyone else to use these characters, at least for now. You can still ask, but don't be surprised if you get turned down. Characters from one of the other categories can also be Reserved temporarily, as in the Classic LNH.
There's also the "future sanity rule": if a character is not General Use and has an important role in the setting (leader, president, Sorcerer Supreme) that is getting in the way of other writers, and the creator isn't responding to requests, then other writers are explicitly allowed to write that role out, even if that requires a minor cameo by the "forbidden" character.