Under U.S. Copyright law, “derivative works” are creative works based on a pre-existing work (either copyrighted or in the public domain) which incorporates elements of the original along with new elements, concepts, or ideas. Sequels, unrelated works based in a pre-existing created world, film scripts, and radio plays are all examples of derivative works. The copyright owner of the original work has the exclusive, discretionary right to create or authorize derivative works. Unlicensed derivative works made during the copyright term of the original–including fanfic–are copyright infringement. Many people are surprised to learn that fanfic which simply copies the characters and situations from someone else’s copyrighted work is copyright infringement, because soRead more
Beware of Derivative “Inspiration”
Authors often ask me about the legality of using other works as “inspiration” for creative works–not just “fanfic” but also works intended to stand alone. The short answer is that while the “building blocks of fiction”–macro-level concepts like “wizards” and “talking animals” can’t be copyrighted, an author’s interpretation of those concepts, and creative worlds an author builds, are subject to copyright. Using another author’s characters, worlds, or creative flourishes without permission is often copyright infringement (if done without permission and prior to expiration of the copyright term). Use of copyrightable portions of another author’s creative works–either by copying or by using them for “closeRead more
Who Owns a Derivative Work?
People often ask me about derivative works (and who owns them) so today I’m turning the spotlight on that topic. The United States Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. Section 101) defines a “derivative work” as: A work based upon one or more pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work.” InRead more
Deriving “Inspiration” From Other Works
Today’s post addresses a two-part question: “What’s the legality of using other works as “inspiration” for new works? When do you need a license?” The short answer is that it depends on the copyright status of the work the author wants to use for inspiration. This week, we’ll look at the author’s obligations when the work is in the public domain. Next week, we’ll look at licensing for works still under copyright protection. Authors wishing to base a new creative work on a pre-existing work must determine whether the pre-existing work has entered the public domain. Generally speaking, copyright includes theRead more