Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – derivative literary works

A derivative literary work is a work that is based upon one or more preexisting works, regardless of whether the preexisting work is a literary work, a work of the performing arts, a sound recording, a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, or any other type of work.

Typically, a derivative literary work is a new version of a preexisting work or a work that contains new material combined with material that has been recast, transformed, or adapted from a preexisting work. A derivative literary work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if the author contributed a sufficient amount of new authorship to the work. Making trivial changes or additions to a preexisting work does not satisfy this requirement.

When asserting a claim in a derivative literary work, the applicant should provide the name of each author who created the new material that the applicant intends to register, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that new material. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the new material contains a sufficient amount of textual expression, or a claim in “artwork” and/or “photograph(s)” if the new material contains a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “revised computer program” if the new material contains sufficient statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.

Translations

A translation is a rendering of a nondramatic literary work from one language into another, such as a work that has been translated from English into Spanish, from German into English, or from Hindi into Malayalam. Translations are among the nine categories (draft) of works that can be specially ordered or commissioned as a work made for hire, provided that the parties expressly agree in a signed written instrument that the translation shall be considered a work made for hire.

A translation may be registered if it contains a sufficient amount of original expression. A translation that is performed by a computer program that automatically converts text from one language into another without human intervention cannot be registered because the conversion is merely a mechanical act. For the same reason, a transliteration or other process whereby the letters or sounds from one alphabet are converted into a different alphabet cannot be registered.

When submitting an application to register this type of work, the claim should be limited to the text of the translation, the applicant should provide the name of the author who translated the preexisting work from one language into another, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in the translated text. Applicants should use the term “translation” to describe this type of authorship, rather than “text” or “editing.”

Fictionalizations

A fictionalization is a work of fiction that recasts, transforms, or adapts the facts or factual events that are described in one or more preexisting works. A work of fiction that is only loosely based on the facts or events described in a preexisting work typically would be considered a work of fiction, rather than a fictionalization.

When submitting an application to register this type of work, the claim should be limited to the text of the fictionalization, the applicant should provide the name of the author of that text, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that text. Applicants should use the term “text” or “fictionalization” to describe this type of authorship, rather than “editing.”

Abridgements

An abridgment is a shortened or condensed version of a preexisting work that retains the general sense and unity of the preexisting work. An abridgment of a nondramatic literary work may be registered if the author contributed a sufficient amount of creative authorship in the form of edits, revisions, or other modifications to the preexisting work, and if the work as a whole is sufficiently creative in adapting the preexisting work such that it constitutes an original work of authorship. Trivial changes do not satisfy this requirement, such as merely omitting a section from the beginning or end of a preexisting work.

When submitting an application to register an abridgement, the claim should be limited to the condensed text that appears in the work, the applicant should provide the name of the author who condensed the preexisting work, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in the condensed text. Applicants should use the term “abridged text” or the like to describe this type of authorship, rather than “text,” “edits,” or “editing.”

Editorial Revisions, Annotations, Elaborations, or Other Modifications

Editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications to a preexisting work or the addenda or errata sheets for a published work may be registered as a derivative literary work if the author contributed a sufficient amount of new material to the work, and if the derivative work as a whole sufficiently modifies or transforms the preexisting work such that it constitutes an original work of authorship.

Specifically, the author must contribute new text or revised text to the preexisting work, and the text must possess a sufficient amount of written expression. Merely correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, or making other minor changes, revisions, or other modifications to a preexisting work do not satisfy this requirement.

When submitting an application to register this type of work, the claim should be limited to the new text or revised text that the author contributed to the work, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created the new material, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that new material. Applicants should use the terms “new text” and/or “revised text” to describe this type of authorship, rather than “text” or “editing.”