What is a “Derivative Work”? Can I distribute one?
A "derivative work" is any song that takes a preexisting work and uses that material to create a new composition. It differs from a cover song, which is a more straightforward interpretation of an existing composition without significant alterations to the melody or lyrics.
In the musical realm, examples of derivative works include:
- language translations
- samples or replaying (re-recording a segment of the original song)
- songs arrangements that change lyrics, abridge the music, or make other significant alterations to the original composition.
You CANNOT distribute a derivative work without the permission of the copyright holder of the pre-existing work. Unlike cover songs, the copyright holder CAN deny you permission to create a derivative work for any reason.
If a derivative work has been properly licensed with permission from the original publisher or copyright holder, you can distribute that song through CD Baby as an original work with the proper songwriting ownership of the new song listed. That ownership should reflect the license you have negotiated with the creator of the work you created a derivative work from.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A Derivative Work – such as a sample – is NOT able to be cleared through a cover song licensing process. Some places, like Easy Song, can clear samples through a separate custom licensing process. Talk to a lawyer about sample clearance, but do NOT sign up for digital distribution until you've paid the copyright owner for permission.
Derivative works are also not eligible for CD Baby Pro Publishing services. You may consult your Performing Rights Organization about the possibility of registering your derivative track directly through them.