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Public Domain derived works and being careful of copyright infringement

Article at highlights where public domain seems to begin, and copyright ends; and, how a derivative work from a public domain property has a number of areas of legal danger.


... there may still be protection in ... subsequent derivative works, but only for the incremental additions of originality contributed by the authors of the derivative works. The court set forth certain examples of aspects that may still be protectable.

The article describes how a case involving the usage of Wizard of Oz characters fell into three areas, one of which is public domain, and the other two incurred infringement. The example given is Wizard of Oz characters being put upon t-shirts being within the public domain, but a three-dimensional image (the example is a snow globe) did incur infringement because it was derivative not of the original two-dimensional images (which are in public domain) but from the later 1939 film which depicts the characters in three-dimensions.

Another example given of infringement in the Wizard of Oz case was the creation of new works juxtaposing images which invoked the aspects of the characters from later (and still under copyright) depictions:


“Products combining extracts from the public domain materials in a new arrangement infringe the copyright.” The court reasoned that even if each new composite work was composed solely of works in the public domain, the arrangement and expression evoked the movie character in a way that the individual public domain item did not."

The article emphasizes that in looking at what is and isn't still copyrighted when a property has earlier renditions falling into public domain but later versions are still protected, a "bright line test" can be deceiving, especially if the material in question involve transforming earlier works from two-dimensions to three-dimensions.

Obviously, seeking proper legal advise from a professional is the best course.

More at the Public Domain source list page

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