I was wondering if anyone here has any knowledge of what a "derivative work" might look like as far as copyright infringement goes. Let me give you some specifics of my situation:
I've been commissioned (not getting paid, just get my name out there) to write a piece for a high school orchestra. My only requirement is "use a theme that high school kids can really get into". What better theme right now than the Hunger Games, right?
Problem: I don't want to be sued by a company as large as Scholastic Inc.
Here's what I would like to do: Title the piece "Rue's Song". Rue is a character in the book. One other thing I'm planning is to use is the text of a lullaby written by the author of the book as basis to write my own melody. Obviously, as it is a book, there is no actually melody to steal, the melody will be original, and I will not use the actual text in anyway.
The way I see it, I'm using such little amount of information in a indirect fashion that I think I'm fine. I've often heard that copyright protects the work itself, not the idea of the work (which is what I'm dealing with, an idea). However, my project is still the basic definition of "derivative work" which I understand I should need a license for.
Does anyone have any opinions to share with me? As a young composer just trying to get my name out there, I don't have the money to spend on a license like this. If what I'm planning is in violation of copyright, I'll just have to abandon the project. If not, I'd love to continue on.
I would guess it's not a violation. As long as you credit the author of any words you use.
In the final analysis, what would the company achieve by sueing? Is any money going to be generated as a result of your commission?
you might be able to license it as doing a "Cover" version of it through Harry Fox. I would contact them and ask. Legally it is way more complicated than you realize. There is a strong chance it would go under the radar and no one would care.... until one of the kids in the band puts it on youtube and it has 10 million hits and then ...yikes. Hello legal fees.
This is a common misconception. Crediting the author does not "help" in any way. A copyright violation is still a copyright violation.
That said, it sounds like that's not what you're doing, since you aren't using any words from the text, just using one interpretation of the rhythm of the lyrics as inspiration for a unique melody.
It would certainly be safer to stay away from "Rue" since that is most definitely a copyrighted character and also stay away from the phrase "hunger games" which is trademarked.
A bit of followup...
Creating a work that is "inspired by" but does not use any elements of a copyrighted work is usually not a considered a derivative work. So in your case, reading a passage of copyrighted text and then composing a melody inspired by that text is ok.
However, when naming your piece, you do need to be wary of using copyrighted or trademarked terms or characters that would imply your piece is associated with the author or producers of the work in question. One semi sneaky way around this particular issue (since the character's name is also a commonly used adjective) could be to call your piece something like "A rueful melody." And since the character Rue's story is somewhat "rueful", it'd be an apt name...
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and therefore this is not legal advice. I'm just a guy on a forum who's had to deal with issues like this in the past.
Brian makes a great point, but let's not forget that the text itself is copyright protected. When working with High School Bands or Orchestras, I usually send them a contract that indicates they understand the organization(the school) is responsible for obtaining permission to arrange before any work begins.
There are specifics within the copyright law that allow up to 10 seconds (or some amount of length) before it's infringement, but you'd have to read up on the law and make sure you're not violating the rules.
Works inspired by "Hunger Games" cannot fall under copyright infringement, given that the work is original and not derivative; again, assuming you use no actual text from the book/movie etc.
And as a final thought, it always shows schools, organizations or anyone you do business with (whether it's paid or volunteered), that you work as professionally as possible in your craft, and you will be sought out more often!
Actually, that is a (well-circulated) myth. There is no amount of time, or number of notes, or # of words, etc that you're allowed.
Well there you go! I fell for a tall tale! But, having heard this information in the past, I still stayed away from it since I had never run across that in the copyright law. Thanks!