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One of my favorite albums of all time is this album that tells a story. It is like a children's album with its story, but I like the characters in it. It is not particularly popular or well-known. I want to make websites and other non-music related communities based on settings from this album. I also want to use a graphical depiction of the main character in this album as my community mascot. Remember, this is all derived from a music album, but not other graphical depictions / there's a tremendous amount of original work here as well.

While there have been animated movies made that make use of the album's songs within them, I would not be using the album's songs for anything and would not be deriving any graphical depictions from that animated film.

Since I might eventually make money off these websites through advertising revenue, I was wondering if it was legal to use derivative works of a music album as long as you're not actually copying its lyrics, singing its songs, or usingthe music directly. But if you're making it a derivative that someone could listen to the album and see the connection, does that violate copyright?

Is the best approach just to not publicize any connection to the album at all, but keep the overall theme so that people suspect it but it isn't in the face and profiting off it in a marketing way?

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To answer the question in the title: No, of course not. If it is a derivative work, the copyright holder of the original album has copyright in it.

However, if you draw an image inspired by an album, that might not be a derivative work.

A couple of points:

  • Just because there is lots of original work in your depiction, doesn't mean the original copyright disappears. It is perfectly possible for a work to have multiple copyright holders. (A photograph of a painting of a statue would be likely to have three for example - the photographer, the painter, and the sculptor.)

  • The popularity of the album is totally irrelevant. The resources of the current copyright holder might be relevant (but only if you are planning to ignore the copyright).

  • What does this mean? "However, if you draw an image inspired by an album, that might not be a derivative work." – steve antwan Aug 7 '18 at 0:12
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    @steveantwan He means that the image itself might be entirely from your imagination if the album gives no guidance for what the characters look like, and if you don't formally identify them with album characters (e.g. leaving the works untitled), because they are not "derived" from the album, merely inspired by it. – ohwilleke Aug 7 '18 at 1:52
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Shorter answer: No.

Longer answer: While a derivative work is covered by copyright, additional inquiry is in order.

Many popular characters in children's fiction have ultimate sources that are out of copyright or are based on real historical figures.

To the extent that the stories are retellings of, for example, Aesop's Fables or the Brothers Grimm's collections of tales or a historical figure, you can write based upon the source material although not the copyrighted albums.

Disney, in particular, is fond of making big $$ from characters and stories derived from out of copyright material. You can't use their version, but you can derive something from the source material that it out of copyright that they used.

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