What is derivative

In college, I participated with 13 others in the creation of a stage play. We based the stage play on research we all did on our own from public sources and from an historical research book. Since then I have written a screen play based on these same four historical characters. But there is absolutely no usage of any of the words, scenes or thematic core of the play. I am getting some push back from others. Since these are historical figures and there is a different thamitc core have I crossed a line? 


Asked over 7 years ago in Pendleton, Indiana
Categories: Patents, Trademarks, Copyright

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Posted over 7 years ago

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice to you. Legal advice pertaining to your particular situation can only be provided by a lawyer who has met with you to obtain all pertinent background information necessary to give you a formal legal opinion. For formal legal advice, hire a lawyer (many give a free first consultation). Search the Lawyer Directory.


James R Coleman

Answer by James R Coleman

VerifiedWorldwide lawyer


Jim Coleman - Patent Attorney
This is a copyright question.  Sounds as if you have multiple issues.  One seems to be whether you may write a play or other work based on historical characters.  Second, there is an issue of who is the real author.   
Many plays have been written on the same subjects and involving the same characters.  If you are not using someone else's plot or more than a few lines, you will probably be safe.  You wrote that the characters are historical.  There can be problems about recently deceased persons but if you wanted to write about Abe Lincoln and his conflicts with his wife, just because someone else wrote a work about Abe Lincoln and his wife would not prevent you from using the same characters. 
You are permitted to copy a few lines here and there from other works but the copying must be brief.  There are specific limits to what is called Fair Use.  In the age of the internet, Fair Use has been stretched, improperly, beyond all recognition.  That does not mean you cannot be prosecuted for copyright violations for going beyond Fair Use. 
You refer to getting "some push back from others".  If the words and plot are entirely your own work, it is unclear what they are pushing back about.  However, if the script was a collective effort, the others may have a point.  They may want their moment of fame or their piece of the royalty pie. 
So, on both issues, as always, it depends on the facts.

Posted about 7 years ago

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice to you. Legal advice pertaining to your particular situation can only be provided by a lawyer who has met with you to obtain all pertinent background information necessary to give you a formal legal opinion. For formal legal advice, hire a lawyer (many give a free first consultation). Contact James R Coleman, or search the Lawyer Directory.

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