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

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808.8 Derivative Motion Pictures

808.8 Derivative Motion Pictures

A motion picture is considered a derivative work if it recasts, transforms, or adapts one or more preexisting works. 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “derivative work”). For example, a derivative motion picture may be based on a novel, a play, a painting, or other works of authorship. A new version of a preexisting motion picture also may qualify as a derivative work, provided that the revisions, additions, deletions, or other modifications, taken as a whole, constitute a new work of authorship.

The author of a derivative motion picture must have permission to use the preexisting material if that material is protected by copyright, and the author must contribute a sufficient amount of new original authorship in order to register the new work as a derivative work. For information concerning this rule, see Chapter 300, Sections 311.2 and 313.6 (B).

When completing an application for a derivative motion picture, the applicant should identify and exclude the preexisting material from the claim, and should describe the new material that the author contributed to the new motion picture. Likewise, if the derivative motion picture contains material created by others, the applicant should exclude that preexisting material if it is not part of the claim. For guidance on these procedures, see Chapter 600, Section 621.

Common types of derivative work authorship in motion pictures are described in Sections 808.8 (A) through 808.8 (E). For general information regarding derivative works, see Chapter 500, Section 507.

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