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What to know about creating derivative works

Artistic works are more accessible than ever before. Individuals can share their creations across the world in a single upload to social media.

Having this platform can launch an artist’s career, but it also leaves them vulnerable to copyright disputes regarding derivative works and infringement. 

What are derivative works?

People generally know that duplicating a logo, picture or drawing and using it for their financial gain is a copyright violation.

However, confusion can arise when it comes to derivative works such as adaptations, compilations, revisions and translations.

While the material a person creates may not be an exact copy of the protected work, it can still trigger legal action because copyrights give owners the right to control the material’s use and adaptation. In other words, if you wish to use copyrighted work to make something else, you generally must secure permission to do so from the holder of the copyright.

Monetization: A key component of legal claims

All of this is not to say that an individual needs to secure permission to use copyrighted material in every situation. One area where this can be the case is using another person’s work for a tattoo.

People often get cartoon characters or brand names and other copyrighted images as tattoos. In general, the individuals may not need to seek permission from the owner. However, this changes if a party receives monetary benefit from using the image.

As an example of this, we can look at a case involving a photographer who holds a copyright for a portrait of Miles Davis. He is suing famous tattoo artist Kat Von D for reproducing his work without permission and distributing images of it to her millions of followers on social media. 

The photographer alleges that Von D used his material to promote and advertise her products and services without his permission and without crediting him as the original work’s creator. Thus, he is now seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Important takeaways

A copyright owner has the right to control the use of their work, including derivative works. Parties who do not license work before using it can face legal action.

Thus, before using existing work to make something new, it can be wise to seek legal counsel. Doing so can help you avoid infringement allegations and seek a copyright for the derivative work you create.


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