For the purposes of United States copyright law, a derivative work is one that is based directly from one or more already existing copyrightable works. Derivative works come in many different forms, from translations to musical rearrangements to movie productions of books and plays. When it comes to derivative works, there are many different complex copyright law issues that must be considered. In this post, our copyright law attorneys highlight some of the most important issues you need to know about derivative works.

Who Can Create Derivative Works?

The Copyright Act of 1976 gives copyright holders certain exclusive rights over their work. One of the five exclusive rights granted under the act gives copyright holders the exclusive right to create derivative works. This is why you cannot simply turn a popular book into a movie without consulting with the original creator, as doing so would be copyright infringement. The copyright holder has the exclusive right to produce or grant permission to produce derivative works. In most cases, permission to create a derivative work is granted through a license.

Derivative Works Can Receive Copyright Protection – But Only for the New Elements

If you make a derivative work, either from your own work or after obtaining a license to use another creator’s work, you have the right to copyright protection for the new work you produce. Though, to be clear, only the new elements of the work can receive such protection. Copyright protection does not extend to any preexisting material, and thus, there is no loophole that can be used by copyright holders to extend the length of their available protection by simply creating a derivative work.

The Fair Use Exception: Transformative Works

While a content creator cannot produce a derivative of an already copyright protected work without obtaining legal permission, there are some exceptions. Most notably, creators can produce a transformative work. Under the ‘fair use’ doctrine, a work sufficiently transformative, even if it was directly inspired by a protected work, is not considered to be copyright infringement. In fact, a transformative work may itself be able to get copyright protection. Applying the fair use doctrine to real world scenarios can be extremely challenging. In some cases, it may be unclear as to whether or not your transformative work falls into the fair use exception. If you have any doubts or concerns, you should speak to a qualified copyright lawyer as soon as possible.

Contact Our Copyright Attorneys Today

At Maldjian Law Group LLC, our law firm is dedicated to helping clients procure and protect their intellectual property rights. We have experience handling copyright law cases, including disputes involving derivative works. To learn more about what our top-rated copyright attorneys can do for you, please call us today at (732) 889-1311 or contact us through our website. We have offices in Tinton Falls, NJ and New York City and serve clients throughout the Tri-state region as well as the rest of the United States.