Landman Library

Uses of Copyrighted Works

Transformative work vs. derivative work


A new work that uses a previous copyrighted work in part or whole can take two forms, one that requires copyright permission to be obtained, one that does not.


Derivative Work

A work that builds on a previous copyrighted work

Making certain kinds of changes—e.g., translating into a different language, creating a new version—requires the permission of the copyright owner.

Making a derivative work without the permission of the copyright holder could be considered copyright infringement and could leave the new author vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Go to Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations to read the U.S. Copyright Office’s definitive take on what derivative works are. It was written for the general public and is both easily understandable and thorough.


Transformative Work

A work that builds on a previous copyright work in a way that imbues it with new meaning

A transformative work does not require the permission of the copyright holder to create it.

Courts have used The Four Factors of Fair Use to help determine what "transformative" means.

Sometimes it might mean taking a highly creative work like a Hollywood movie and giving it an educational purpose.

Or it could mean making a parody of an original work.

Go to Fair Use: What is Transformative? ( Accessed 31 Aug. 2020) to read an excellent, readable article by a copyright lawyer with specific examples.