I've been reading about derivative works and general copyright, but I'm struggling to understand the scope of what is a derivative work.

Allow me to present my situation.

I have written a concept album, it is a retelling of a story previously told in a movie, let's say Robocop.

At no point is the film tile Robocop referenced, the song titles and plot points are designed to be familiar to fans of the movie. A few character names are referenced, and a few lines of dialogue are referenced but the vast majority (99.9%) is original lyrics describing similar scenes and characters.

Is this a derivative work? Does this require a licence? Would it be an infringement? It is essentially a fan homage in song form.

My understanding is that as this doesn't contain any mechanical part of the original movie it is fine. Sorry if this has already been discussed, I couldn't find anything which covered exactly what I want to ask.

Update: I though I would add some examples.

This House Is Not For Sale - Ryan Adams is very similar to the story of the film Beetlejuice, but at no point directly references it.

Far Gone - Pictish Trail contains the line She wouldn't stop screaming which has been acknowledged as being from the film Fargo and also uses a remixed sample from the Fargo movie soundtrack as the hook.

Are these derivative works? Would they be infringing upon IP laws without some kind of licence? And how would they compare to the situation I have outlined?

1 Answer 1


This is a heavily fact-dependent question. Exactly how and how much your work "evokes" the original will matter.

That said, your belief that "My understanding is that as this doesn't contain any mechanical part of the original movie it is fine." is not at all correct. If your new work is clearly based on the original work, it would be a derivative work. For example, if Shakespear's Romeo and Juliet were still in copyright, West Side story would have been a derivative work, and would have required permission.

You would do well to consult a lawyer knowledgeable in this specific area, in your specific jurisdiction, as the detailed rules vary by country, although the general principles are pretty much world-wide.

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