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Derivative Works Under Copyright Law

Learn about how derivative works under copyright law and where it is applicable and where it is not.

In the case of derivative works, they are works based on another piece of work that has already been protected by the intellectual property rights (copyright). The new work is derived from or originates from the prior effort. Various sorts of creative works, including derivative works, are protected under the law of intellectual property. For example, imagine yourself as an innovative individual (of any kind) who has been so inspired by another (copyrighted) work that you want to adapt that work to create something entirely new. Is it possible for you to get copyright protection for your fresh creation? 

If you hold the copyright to a project, you ought to be clear that you already own the Copyright Act Literary Work to any derivative works that are made from it. It’s essential to be aware that merging someone else’s work into your own may violate the original work’s intellectual property laws, so you should proceed with caution. Now, let’s understand what a derivative work is.

What is a Derivative Work?

 Answering this, like with the majority of ambiguous notions, is possible. However, practically, it may be challenging to navigate through muddy waters when trying to look for the risks associated with intellectual property infringement. How can we avoid stumbling into the grey regions of copyright law while creating derivative and transformational works, and what are the grey areas?

When derivative works are created from a unique, formerly copyright-protected piece of work, the result is secure in a tangible medium. It incorporates components of the original, previously copyright-protected work. Typically, the initial work will be referred to as the ‘original work’, ‘underlying work’ or ‘parent work’ whereas the work that integrates portions from it will be referred to as a ‘derivative’

Non-unique works and collections of other pieces or works based on formerly existing ones may be protected by intellectual property rights. When this happens, the scope of the original copyright is limited to the original materials of the collection or the derivation work.

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In What Situations It May Apply? 

Even though you’re not a professional writer, an artist, or you’re just interested in copyright law, the word “Derivative Work” might have come up in your conversations with others many times in the past. For most individuals, this is a common phrase. However, the understanding of its actual meaning and legal significance is limited. Determining whether or not something is an original work or a derivative work is one of the primary lawful and factual problems that you must address before filing any copyright infringement lawsuit. 

Copyright Law and the Protection of Original Work

For a wide range of original creative pieces of work, including but not limited to the following:

  • Literary works that are both nonfictional and fictional.
  • Sound recordings are a kind of recording.
  • Music compositions that include both the musical lyrics and scores.
  • Music is often used in dramatic works like theatres and plays.
  • Motion pictures, including those seen in theatres, on TV (whether broadcast on-air, via cable, or via satellite), and on the internet, are all considered motion pictures.
  • Visual artworks include paintings, drawings, and sculptures, to name a few examples.

Derivative Works: Are They Protected Under the Global Copyright Law and Intellectual Property Conventions? 

The answer to this question is, yes. It is a prevalent misperception that derivative works do not even have the right to copyright protection under the law. This doesn’t seem right at all.

It is illegal to breach or violate the usage of a derivative work without first obtaining permission from the creator or using a positive defence like fair use. Many piracy types include publication or revising a creator’s original work (including fanfiction and fan art) on social networking platforms, content-hosting websites, or blogs even without the author’s permission. Alternatively, creating accounts on various social websites to view things that include a derivative work without a license authorising these purposes, especially any revenue-generating usages. 

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Public Domain Works 

In most cases, copyright protection will not stay valid forever. The copyright may expire after a certain period. When the copyright protection of the original work expires, the work will be termed being “in the public domain,” which means that anybody may freely use it. Hence, anyone may use such a work that has been made available to the public. 

If you use something that is already in the public domain and make specific changes to it, the resultant work is said to be a derivative work and is, thus, protected under the Performance Rights in Copyright Law. Others will still be able to continue utilising the original work in the public domain, but they will not be able to do so once you make your alteration to the work. 

Exceptions to Copyright Protection 

Online Copyright Registration does not protect all uses of the work or the use of derivative works in their entirety. There are a few exceptions to what is often referred to as the fair use doctrine, which includes the following:

  • Parodies: It is referred to as a parody when a piece of work is modified to criticise or make fun of the original piece in question. For example, weird Al Yankovic has established a successful career by creating and performing parodies of well-known popular tunes and songs from the past. In addition, some painters have stolen works by renowned artists and altered them in a lighthearted style. However, it’s critical not to make the mistake of conflating parody with satire.
  • Reviews: When writing a book review, it is acceptable to cite brief passages from the book under consideration. Similarly, a review of a musical album may include quotations from song names and short chunks of their lyrics.
  • Works of a Scholarly Nature: The author of a scholarly work may utilise tiny elements of a copyrighted work in their work if the author obtains permission. 

However, a derivative work is a screenplay, which has its copyright that protects the book’s distinctive components, such as any new discourse or performance orders for a play scene, that is not included. However, because the film is a cinematic work rather than a textual one, it is protected by its Copyright Objection Reply, which protects aspects of the film that are unique to it and weren’t included in the text, like the director’s distinctive agreement for a film shot, which is protected by the copyright. 


Whether or not an individual’s use of copyrighted material is ‘fair’ would entirely depend on a particular instance’s circumstances and facts. There is a slight difference between ‘fair dealing’ and violation of intellectual property rights. Hence, it’s advisable to gain permission from the original copyright owners or seek expert legal assistance to be safe. 

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