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

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801.8 Derivative Works

801.8 Derivative Works

A derivative work is “a work based upon one or more preexisting 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.'” 17 U.S.C. § 101.


• A motion picture based on a preexisting play.

• A new arrangement of a musical work.

Copyright protection provides exclusive rights to the author and/or owner of the copyrighted work. One of those exclusive rights is the right to create derivative works. See 17 U.S.C. § 106 (2). Generally, if the author of the derivative work is not the copyright owner of the preexisting work, and the preexisting work is still under copyright protection, the author of the derivative work may not use the preexisting copyrighted work as the basis for a new work, unless a copyright exception applies. See, e.g., 17 U.S.C.

§ 115 (providing a compulsory license for the creation of a new sound recording of a preexisting nondramatic musical work).


• A director may not register the stage directions for a play unless he or she has obtained permission to use the dramatic work.

For more information on derivative works, see Chapter 500, Section 507.

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