Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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709 Derivative Literary Works


709 Derivative Literary Works


A derivative literary work is a work that is based upon one or more preexisting works, regardless of whether the preexisting work is a literary work, a work of the performing arts, a sound recording, a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, or any other type of work. Typically, a derivative literary work is a new version of a preexisting work or a work that contains new material combined with material that has been recast, transformed, or adapted from a preexisting work. See 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “derivative work”).


A derivative literary work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if the author contributed a sufficient amount of new authorship to the work. Making trivial changes or additions to a preexisting work does not satisfy this requirement. See Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc., 191 F.2d 99, 103 (2d Cir. 1951). Examples of nondramatic literary works that may be registered as a derivative work include translations, fictionalizations, abridgements, editorial revisions, and a wide range of other works such as:


• A short story based on a preexisting poem.


• A children’s book featuring copyrightable characters from a preexisting children’s book.


• The third edition of a previously published textbook.


• The fourth version of a previously published computer program.


• New content that has been added to a preexisting website.


• A computer program that has been translated from C++ into the C# programming language.


When asserting a claim in a derivative literary work, the applicant should provide the name of each author who created the new material that the applicant intends to register, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that new material. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the new material contains a sufficient amount of textual expression, or a claim in “artwork” and/or “photograph(s)” if the new material contains a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “revised computer program” if the new material contains sufficient statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result. When completing an online application this information should be provided in the Author Created field and the New Material Included field; when completing a paper application on Form TX this information should be provided in spaces 2 and 6 (B). For guidance on completing these portions of the application, see Chapter 600, Sections 618.4 and 621.8.


For a discussion of translations, fictionalizations, abridgements, and editorial revisions, see Sections 709.1 through 709.4 below. For a discussion of derivative computer programs, see Sections 721.2 and 721.8 below. For a general discussion of the legal standard for determining whether a derivative work contains a sufficient amount of original expression to warrant registration, see Chapter 300, Section 311.2.


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