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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Derivative Works > Frequently Asked Questions Printer-friendly version

Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) about Derivative Works

  • Q: Can I cut photographs out of a book, frame them, and sell them separately as a new product or work of art?
  • Q: Can I take photographs I
  • Q: What if I buy a digital photo, print it out, and put that on a tile
    or t-shirt?
  • Q: Is a link to a web page a derivative work?
  • Q: Can I take a character from Shakespeare and use it in a very different
    context?
  • Q: I have created a new play based on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.
  • Q: Can I take a character from a movie, like Chewbacca from Star Wars, and use it in a play with a very different plot and otherwise different characters?
  • Q: Can I make a sculpture based on a photograph without permission?
  • Q: Can I take a photograph of a painting and sell the photograph?
  • Q: I
  • Q: What if I
  • Q: Can I make and sell lithograph prints or T-Shirt with a likeness of a famous character such as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy?
  • Q: I
  • Q: Can I write a book of trivia questions based on a television show?
  • Q: I

    Question: Can I cut photographs out of a book, frame them, and sell them separately as a new product or work of art?

    Answer: Uncertain. Maybe not. In essence, what you would be doing is creating
    a new work based on preexisting copyrighted material, which is usually known as a derivative work.

    The challenges posed by this particular set of hypothetical facts is probably best illustrated by the cases featuring A.R.T. Company, also known as Albuquerque A.R.T. Company.
    At ;east part of A.R.T.'s business model was centered around legitimately purchase small lithographs and other works of art and then mounting or fixing them onto tiles, which they would then sell.
    This practice was ruled to be copyright infringement in . and in MUNOZ v. ALBUQUERQUE A.R.T. CO. , but held not to infringe in another A.R.T. case, Lee v. A.R.T. Company.

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    Question: Can I take photographs I

    Answer: Yes.

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    Question: What if I buy a digital photo, print it out, and put that on a tile
    or t-shirt?

    Answer: The courts have not addressed this specific issue, but digital photos sold individually could be seen as

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    Question: Is a link to a web page a derivative work?

    Answer: Probably not, but the law on linking isn

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    Question: Can I take a character from Shakespeare and use it in a very different
    context?

    Answer: Yes.  Shakespeare

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    Question: I have created a new play based on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.

    Answer: For your play to be a derivative work, you must make some minimally creative changes, but the standard for “creativity” is pretty low.

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    Question: Can I take a character from a movie, like Chewbacca from Star Wars, and use it in a play with a very different plot and otherwise different characters?

    Answer: Probably not.? The people who hold copyright in Star Wars own the characters as well as the plot, the filmed images, etc.  Placing a distinctive fictional character in a different context or medium is still copying that character, and therefore infringement.   However, if you use the character for the purposes of parody or criticism you might be making a legitimate fair use of the character.  Note that in one case involving Walt Disney, Inc. and a comic book publisher, the comic book publisher argued that his use of the images of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck was satirical, and therefore fair use.  The Ninth Circuit rejected the fair use argument, reasoning that the comic book took more of the images than was necessary to suggest the characters in the minds of the readers and therefore exceed the bounds of fair use.  See Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates, 581 F. 2d 751 (9th Cir. 1978).

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    Question: Can I make a sculpture based on a photograph without permission?

    Answer: No. The sculpture would be a derivative work.  In one famous case, artists Jeff Koons made a sculpture based on a photograph of a group of puppies and argued that the sculpture was a

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    Question: Can I take a photograph of a painting and sell the photograph?

    Answer: Probably not.  If the photograph contained a sufficient amount of creativity, it would be a derivative work; if not, it would simply be a copy.  Either way, you need permission unless you can show your use is fair use.  Fair use may be especially difficult to show if your photograph is essentially a

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    Question: I

    Answer: No.  Assuming the original traditional folk song is in the public domain, both of you are free to copy and revise the original song.  You are not free to copy each other

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    Question: What if I

    Answer: You and your partner are joint authors of the article, which means you are both free to do what you like with it as long as you don

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    Question: Can I make and sell lithograph prints or T-Shirt with a likeness of a famous character such as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy?

    Answer: No, but not because the prints or T-Shirts are derivative works (unless perhaps they were adapted from a scene or series of scenes from a particular movie).

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    Question: I

    Answer: No. The design itself might be patentable, but it is not copyrightable. Copyright law covers only expressions, not ideas. So we can

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    Question: Can I write a book of trivia questions based on a television show?

    Answer: Probably not.  A court held that a book of trivia questions based on the television show Seinfeld was substantially similar to the show itself and therefore could be treated as a

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    Question: I

    Answer: That depends.   Does the second book use the same expression as used in your book?  If so, and that expression is minimally creative, you may have an action for copyright infringement.  If not, the problems will probably treated as uncopyrightable products of a mathematical, predictable distribution of the pieces on the board based on principles of play.  In an old case, an author of a book on contract bridge sued a newspaper for printing a bridge problem that he claimed was substantially similar to a problem contained in his book.  The court held that the author had

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