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What Are Derivative Works and Compilations in Copyright
©2016, Melissa C. Marsh.
Written: 3/1/2001  
By: Melissa C. Marsh

Introduction To Copyright Compilations and Derivative Works

Oftentimes the author of an original work fixed in a tangible medium will decide either to make an alteration to the original work (derivative) or combine a number of pre-existing materials into a new work (compilation).

Copyright Derivative Works

A derivative work is a new work added to one or more pre-existing works. For example, a revised edition of a book, a sequel, or a movie based on a book. The new derivative work is entitled to its own separate copyright, so long as the additional material is more than a simple editing change and contains a modicum of originality. A new copyright can be claimed for the additional material added to the pre-existing copyrighted material, but the new copyright will not affect the copyright status, scope, or duration of the copyright held in the underlying work(s).

Often times it is the same author who is creating the addition to the underlying work. However, where a new author is seeking to add material to a pre-existing work the new author must get the permission from the underlying work's copyright owner, that is so long as the underlying work is still copyright protected. To obtain permission to use the underlying work, you must be sure to identify each and every copyright holder. Please be careful as there is often more than one copyright holder in any work. Take a novel with some illustrations in it for example-the illustrator may hold a copyright in and to his illustrations and the writer may hold a copyright in and to his literary words.

Copyright Compilations

A compilation is a copyrightable work that results from the author's selection and arrangement of pre-existing material. There are two types of compilations: (1) fact compilations and (2) collective works. A "fact compilation" is created by selecting data that is in the public domain like names, addresses, and telephone numbers and arranging the data in some minimally creative manner. Almanacs, catalogues, and other databases are examples of fact compilations.

A compilation may also be a collective work which is created by selecting and arranging copyrighted works into a new single work, such as a book of poetry, or book of short stories, a magazine, or newspaper. The copyright in each poem, short story, or article remains distinct and separate from the copyright in and to the collective work as a whole. To create the collective work from the works of various authors requires the individual seeking to create the "collective work" to get permission from each copyright holder.

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