Pub Rants

Let’s Continue Talking About Derivative Works

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STATUS: Two years and two months after initial publication, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET cracks the top 10 again on the NYT list. Time to celebrate.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU NEEDED ME by Anne Murray

I can tell by the overwhelming number of comments on my last post that discussing copyright is definitely whipping my blog readers into a verbal frenzy.

How many of you used the copyright act as a sleep aid on Monday?

But I do think it’s worth continuing the discussion. As I mentioned Monday, I could see how derivative works could be created for nonfiction work.

For example, and this is just off the top of my head and probably not the best example out there but I think it will give you a sense, is to think of a nonfiction work on decorating for the holidays. In this work, let’s say there is one chapter on table place settings. The publisher than decides to take one aspect of holiday place settings from this chapter and create a whole new gift book on holiday place settings.

That would be a derivative work, created by the publisher and they would own the copyright (at least according to this clause 6.b. in the Macmillan contract.)

In talking to my lawyer, we discussed at length how a derivative work could be a book trailer. Definition of derivative work is based on one or more pre-existing works, such as translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgement, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.

In talking with Macmillan, this is an example they gave as something they could create that would be covered under this clause 6.b.

More on fiction tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t run out of time.


8 Responses

  1. Kristi Helvig said:

    Congrats to you and Jamie Ford on the NYT list!

    I’d never thought of a book trailer as a potential derivative work before, and am eager to hear more on that. Yes, I’m one of the ones whose head was spinning after Monday’s post, but I’m hanging in there. 🙂

  2. Simon Hay Soul Healer said:

    I’m a little shocked by this. I’d have thought the publisher is acting unethically by having the clause in a contract. Potentially, the author is giving away rights to all forms of media adapted from his work.

  3. terripatrick said:

    Is a frenzy of comments to a post a goal for sharing substantial information? Please don’t stop sharing.

    I’ve followed your blog for two years, and often referred to it to others, the wealth of business information you share is invaluable.

    Sure, we’d all adore having you as our agent but that’s not possible. However, as authors we are independent businesses and need to be aware of “derivatives” even with an agent we trust as a partner.

    I personally have 3 nonfiction works in process, as well as my WIP novel, so your example was wonderful and saved me from criss-crossed eyes while still getting the big picture.

    Thank you, thank you.

  4. Arjuwan said:

    Thanks a million for sharing this, I wasn’t aware of this clause. Looking forward to reading more.

  5. Jeff Baird said:

    I remember J.K. Rowling running into the same thing over an unauthorized character description book. Rowling’s went on (if memory serves) with an emotional plea on the stand to the judge and jury about how broken she was emotionally. She was a single mother and was living in a small apartment and working at night once the kids went to bed. These characters were created, brought to life and lived with for a long time. The judge ruled in her favor as I recall because it was unauthorized and they made money on her work. Below is a description about the conflict with interesting comparisons. Enjoy. Full article at
    Excerpt “But Rowling is overstepping her bounds. She has confused the adaptations of a work, which she does own, with discussion of her work, which she doesn’t. Rowling owns the original works them and any effort to adapt her book or characters to other media—films, computer games, and so on. Textually, the law gives her sway over any form in which her work may be “recast, transformed, or adapted.” But she does not own discussion of her work—book reviews, literary criticism, or the fan guides that she’s suing”…… “Giving Rowling what she wants would be like giving Egypt the power to control guides to the pyramids.” By Tim Wu Jan 10, 2008 in Slate Magazine

  6. Anonymous said:

    I’m a new member and see I have a lot of catching up to do. I have a book trailer to help sell my book. If I’m hearing correctly, this could be considered a derivative work. I have control over where it’s placed and when it is placed as a promotion on the book In and Out of Madness by N L Snowden

    Thanks for your wonderful blogs and all this information.

  7. P.I. Barrington said:

    I may have a slight advantage here: my sister has worked in music publishing for several decades. I’m definitely going to talk to her about derivatives tomorrow! Great subject!