Derivative Works and Attribution

Derivative Works and Their Copyright

  • Copyright protection is available for various types of original creative works, including: Literary works (both fiction and non-fiction), Sound recordings, Musical works (including the musical score and lyrics), Dramatic works (such as plays, including music), Motion pictures (including those shown at movie theaters, on television (regardless of whether broadcast over-the-air, by cable, or by satellite), or over the internet), Visual artworks (such as paintings, drawings, and sculptures)
  • 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."
  • There must be major or substantial new material for a work to be considered copyrightable as a derivative work. The new material must be sufficiently original and creative to be copyrightable by itself.
  • Common examples of derivative works are: A new, updated or revised, edition of a book, A translation of a book into another language, A sequel to a novel or motion picture, A novel adapted to a screenplay, stage production, or motion picture, A new musical arrangement of a composition.
  • There are two ways that derivative rights are protected under copyright law.
    • First, the derivative work has protection under the copyright of the original work. Copyright protection for the owner of the original copyright extends to derivative works. This means that the copyright owner of the original work also owns the rights to derivative works. Therefore, the owner of the copyright to the original work may bring a copyright infringement lawsuit against someone who creates a derivative work without permission.
    • Second, the derivative work itself has copyright protection. The creator of the derivative work owns the copyright to the derivative work. This can either be the creator of the original work, or someone else who has obtained a derivative work license from the holder of the original copyright. The copyright of a derivative work is separate from the copyright to the original work. Therefore, if the copyright holder gives someone a license to create a derivative work, the holder retains the copyright to the original work. In other words, only the derivative rights are being licensed.
  • Derivative work as a “work based or derived from one or more already existing works.”
  • To be copyrightable, a derivative work must incorporate some or all of a preexisting work and add new original copyrightable authorship to that work.
  • The term “derivative work” refers to the entire new creative work as a whole, not merely the new elements.
  • The copyright ownership in the derivative work is independent of any copyright protection in the preexisting material.
  • The copyright in the preexisting materials remains with their owner.
  • The owner in the preexisting work must authorize the creation of a derivative work in order for it to be separately owned by another. If not authorized, the preparation of a derivative work constitutes copyright infringement of the preexisting work and is not copyrightable.
  • Once the copyright owner authorizes the preparation of a derivative work, the grant to utilize the preexisting work in the derivative work created is perpetual and cannot be terminated by the owner of the preexisting work. The derivative-work owner holds all copyright rights in the new work created, including the right to license and transfer the derivative work to a third party. The derivative-work owner does not own the copyright in the preexisting material employed in the work but holds the exclusive ownership in the new derivative work. The derivative-work owner therefore can license or transfer the copyrights in the derivative work without permission from the owner of the preexisting materials.
  • Am I required to claim a copyright on my modifications to a GPL-covered program? You are not required to claim a copyright on your changes. In most countries, however, that happens automatically by default, so you need to place your changes explicitly in the public domain if you do not want them to be copyrighted. Whether you claim a copyright on your changes or not, either way you must release the modified version, as a whole, under the GPL
  • What does the GPL say about translating some code to a different programming language? Under copyright law, translation of a work is considered a kind of modification. Therefore, what the GPL says about modified versions applies also to translated versions. The translation is covered by the copyright on the original program. If the original program carries a free license, that license gives permission to translate it. How you can use and license the translated program is determined by that license. If the original program is licensed under certain versions of the GNU GPL, the translated program must be covered by the same versions of the GNU GPL.
  • How do I get a copyright on my program in order to release it under the GPL? Under the Berne Convention, everything written is automatically copyrighted from whenever it is put in fixed form. So you don't have to do anything to “get” the copyright on what you write—as long as nobody else can claim to own your work. However, registering the copyright in the US is a very good idea. It will give you more clout in dealing with an infringer in the US.
  • The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988: The Berne Convention formally mandated several aspects of modern copyright law; it introduced the concept that a copyright exists from the moment that a work is “fixed”, rather than requiring registration. It also enforces a requirement that countries recognize copyrights held by the citizens of all other signatory countries.

Derivative of Derivative Works

  • Person A is original creator of Work0 and have licensed his work under CC-BY 4.0. Person B created a derivative work (Work1) of Person A and he attributed A in a proper way. Then Person C created a derivative work (Work2) of B, does he still need to give attribution for A?
  • If a license requires attribution of the original authors/copyright holders when you create a derived work, then that means you need to give attribution to all copyright holders. If Person A creates Work0, which is then adapted to Work1 by Person B, then the copyright of Work1 is shared between Jane and Alice. This means that, if the work is under a CC-BY license and Person C uses Work1 to create a derived work Work2, then Bob needs to attribute both Person A and Person B.


Attribution of Derivative Work Examples

"[Derivative Work]" by [Derivative Creator] is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 / A derivative from the original work
Copyright 2017 [Derivative Creator] Copyright 2016 [Original Creator] Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at This file has been modified by [Derivative Creator] to add support for foo and get faster baz processing.
This work, "[Derivative Work]", is a derivative of "[Original Work]" by [Original Creator], used under CC BY. "[Your Work]" is licensed under CC BY by [Derivative Creator].
Copyright (c) 2016 [Original Creator] Modifications Copyright (c) 2017 [Derivative Creator] 2017-10-01: Update the interactive streamline nosql to supply strategic users This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version. This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details. You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see
Copyright (c) 2019 [Derivative Creator], based on [Original Work], (c) 2014-2018 [Original Creator-1], (c) 2003-2018 [Original Creator-1]
Materials on this page were adapted from:
  • The Creative Commons Wiki licensed under CC BY 4.0.
  • How to attribute Creative Commons licensed Materials by National Copyright Unit, Copyright Advisory Groups (Schools and TAFEs) licensed under CC BY 4.0.
  • "Open Attribution Builder" by Open Washington, SBCTC licensed under CC BY 4.0
The rap in this video was based on ‘Let’s Get Moving’ by charliehiphop available at Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence,