Copyright Protection for Derivative Works

Copyrighting a derivative work means to use the main theme of a creation or to use something original and significant from someone else’s work, that is interwoven into a creation of your own. Derivatives may take many forms. They may include music, software, art, novels, and technology. There are many rules that define what a “Derivative Work” is and also some loopholes that allow a certain amount of play within the field. Let’s take a closer look to identify where these boundaries are.

What Constitutes as a Derivative?

A derivative is a creation spun from the foundations of another’s creation. For example, if someone were to copy the major themes of Harry Potter, but changed the characters, locations, and institutions, this would be a derivative work. Likewise, if someone wrote a completely different story, but used J.K. Rowling’s foundational creations, such as Hogwarts, in their story, this would also be a derivative work. Music is much the same but follows slightly different rules since music is written in a different language. Many matching chord progressions are used in thousands of songs, yet these songs are much different. Items like music need to show originality in their creation in order to bypass the possibility of a derivative copyright infraction. Software needs to show that its origins were of a personal nature, and not the copy of someone else property.

The “Fair Use” of Derivatives

There are certain situations that permit the copy of another’s work, but they are limited to scenarios on which a creation based off of another’s work does not steal, but educates, informs or entertains in the case of parodies. Writing a book review would duplicate the original storylines but not so in a way that would discredit the original author. Scholarly articles also may replicate another’s work for education purposes. Parodies are the closest one can get to create a derivative work without crossing the legal boundary of copyright protection. Though it may pull almost all the material from the original author, a parody does so in a way that admits it to be a copy, made with the personal touch of a new creator.

Creating Legal Derivatives

To create a legal Derivative work, you need the copyright holder’s permission to do so. To use an earlier example, perhaps you created a story that takes place in the world of J.K. Rowling’s, Hogwarts Academy. You would need written consent of this author to publish such a novel. She will provide guidelines by which you may use her world. She may insist on co-authoring, require a financial trade, or she may simply just give you permission.

It is important when creating new material to be original or to acknowledge those whom may have inspired your storyline with tangible, identifiable and copyrighted material. Cases in which derivative materials have been discovered have turned out poorly for the authors of the offending work. Creating material from another’s inspirations is fine, but make sure to protect yourself by getting permission, complying with guidelines and giving credit where it is due.