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Let's say I redrew one of the below fairly accurately (maybe even completely accurately), and tried to redistribute it for free or even commercially, would I be in breach of copyright laws?

  1. Mona Lisa
  2. Microsoft Windows Icons
  3. The Steam (Valve) Logo
  4. Rewrite a program (lets say calculator) and exactly copy the aesthetic look of another similar program (like the microsoft windows calculator)
  5. Some random artist's published drawing

Or would I just be free to copy these things as I want, as long as all artworks were re-created imitations of the originals? Or is it more complicated than that?

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All of your works would be considered to be a derivative work. This is because your work, is based on the work of someone else's. A good test for this to see if something is a derivative work is to see whether the new work can effectively exist without the original.

Most copyright laws worldwide are similar, thanks to the Berne Convention for copyrighted works. Since derivative works are normally a right that is exclusive to the copyright holder, you can't make such works without permission (generally through a license or expiry of copyright).

So now, let's take a look:

  1. The Mona Lisa was made hundreds of years ago. It's definitely in the public domain. You're in no breach of copyright laws here.

  2. Yes, of course. Microsoft retains copyright on their icons, and possibly trademarks as well. However, they may have trademark guidance that allows you to use their icons - as long as you follow it.

  3. Likely the same as microsoft - you can assume it's similar for most large companies.

  4. Code is copyrighted as a literary work - the layout and visual aspect is copyrighted as an artistic work.

  5. That artist retains copyright, unless you obtain the work with a license, or the copyright is expired. If you create a derivative work, you infringe on their rights.

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    I know more about code copyrights, code is copyrighted, yes, but only exact copies (e.g. I can write a program that does the exact same things as another program, as long as I wrote it, it only gets iffy if I'm actually copying the code directly, but I couldn't do that unless the code were open source, in which case it is probably under an open source license which dictates fair use of that code; however I could also rewrite in the same way you can rephrase another persons sentence, (use the same idea but implement in my own way, like rewriting an essay) and that would be legal) – Cestarian May 15 '16 at 3:04
  • @Cestarian Yes, that's about right. I was just unclear on the layout part - I'm not sure whether that is covered by copyright or patent. But yeah, you're completely right about the code. However, "fair use" isn't dictated for open source. Per the definition, no restrictions can be made for open source code - as long as it is released under an open source license. You may want to check out the Open Source site. Disclaimer: I'm a mod there :) – Zizouz212 May 15 '16 at 3:11
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    @Cestarian code doesn't need to be an exact copy to be an infringement. Courts in the US use the abstraction-filtration-comparison test to judge substantial similarity in computer programs (while taking account of the idea/expression dichotomy and merger) – user3851 May 15 '16 at 15:15
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    @cestarian the test was made specifically to address non-literal copying. I don't know what you mean by non-direct (that phrase isn't really used in the case law). If you mean that it wasn't actually copied (I.e. no access to the original) then sure, but that is true for all subject matter, not just code. Just because something is the same doesn't mean there is infringement if there wasn't actual copying involved. However, if there is simply a different expression of a work, that doesnt preclude finding of substantial similarity and infringement. – user3851 May 15 '16 at 18:34
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    @Cestarian You have copyright on your lexical code as a written work. You do not have copyright on the functionality of the program. Someone can make a program that functions the same way (and therefore might look rather similar) as long as they do not create a derivative work of your lexical code. – apsillers May 16 '16 at 1:47

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