Mark Twain channeled the frustration of many artists when he wrote, “Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” One such frustration is the realm of derivative works. Artists understand that all art is ultimately derivative. For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
But copyright law takes a narrower view, defining “derivative work” as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.