Let's say that I, citizen of Alicetopia in the EU, were creating a derivative work of a copyrighted composition. This would be a heavily modified instrumental rearrangement of an existing song, to the point where it would be basically unrecognizable unless you already knew what you were looking for. Hypothetically, said song would have been written in the late '80s by a Bobvillian band (outside of the EU). (Would it matter which country the song was recorded in? Because it would be yet another country, heh).

Now, to further complicate the issue, assume that I were planning to license usage rights to a group of friends for them to use as background music in an indie videogame of their making, that said friends lived in Charlieland in the EU, and that they were looking into digital distribution of said videogame, which could potentially entail selling the game in other countries, in and outside of the EU.

So my question is, what countries' copyright laws would my friends and I need to abide by in order to decide whether we could use such a track and whether we would need to pay royalties? Alicetopia? Bobville? Charlieland? Potentially every single country where we decided to distribute the game?

  • You've already breached most countries' copyright law by doing this. Making derivative world is the prerogative of the copyright holder, and you evidently have not obtained permission from them.
    – user4657
    Mar 31, 2020 at 18:34
  • @Nij Not necessarily. At least for US (I'm a little unfamiliar with how fair dealing jurisdictions handle this), transformativeness is a factor in fair use, and when it is significant (as is the case here) it makes other factors less important. See Law.SE's canonical fair use Q&A.
    – DPenner1
    Mar 31, 2020 at 19:43
  • 2
    "A heavily modified instrumental version" of an existing song isn't legally transformative just because it's been literally transformed - it's not changing any fundamental aspect or purpose of the copyright object. Put another way, playing a song badly doesn't mean you aren't playing it, regardless of how deliberate that "badly playing" is. @DPenner1
    – user4657
    Mar 31, 2020 at 21:20
  • @Nij Agreed playing a song differently doesn't necessarily meet that criteria. Read this question a little too fast, on re-read I think more likely it is not. That said, I don't think we can say definitively one way or the other without more context.
    – DPenner1
    Mar 31, 2020 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


The laws wherever a copy is made or the work is published

If the game is going to be distributed online then the laws of every country where this happens.

  • And you are making copies all along the process of creating the game. Mar 31, 2020 at 22:56

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