Scenario: a movie is made a couple of decades ago. The movie is NOT based on a book/literary work. Also, NO novelization is made of the movie. Hence, there is no literary work associated with the movie other than the script itself.

Now, assume some author, NOT associated with the movie, comes along and decides to write a book as follows. In the literary work, let's say the characters from the movie are changed, the setting is changed, and the story is flipped (for example, instead of aliens invading earth, the humans invade alien territory). The book does NOT use the script of the movie (so no word for word copying) except if there is an argument in the movie, there is an argument in the book (mimicking the plot point).

Question: Can the author above create a book that follows the movie's plot points without infringing on copyright or facing some other legal injunction?

  • Your entire first paragraph seems irrelevant, with respect to any pre-existing "literary work", since the copyright of the movie itself automatically includes the exclusive right to make a derivative work, including a literary work, even if the movie had no script of its own. As pointed out by others, copyright does not include ideas, nor does it include concepts.
    – Upnorth
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 17:43

1 Answer 1


The right to make a derivative work, such a a "book of the film", is a right that belongs to the copyright holder and anyone they give permission to. Making an unauthorised derivative work is a Prima facie breach.

However, the affirmative defence of fair use is available if you are in the USA. For derivative works, the degree of transformitiveness is a critical factor.

Further, a work inspired by another copyright work but which does not actually copy anything is not a derivative work. It is its own work. Ideas are not subject to copyright.


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