Copyright Issues With Adapting a Short Story

By Michael Butler

If you like a short story, you might be able to adapt it another medium, such as a movie, TV show or musical. However, before you use another person's original work to create your own adaptation, various copyright issues must be considered. Short stories are accorded the same copyright protection as any other original, creative work.


As soon as the author of a short story writes the story down, she has a copyright in the work. The author has the exclusive right to sell, publish, distribute, share and create derivative works from her story. The author can register her copyright with the United States Copyright Office; but she is not required to register to have a full copyright over the work. A copyright does not last forever, but eventually expires. When the copyright expires depends on several factors, including how the work was produced, when it was written and whether the identity of the author is known. Once a copyright expires, the story falls into the public domain for anyone to use.


An adaptation is considered a derivative work that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to make. Section 101 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code defines "derivative work" in part as "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a ... dramatization ... motion picture version ... or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted." Thus, the author of a copyrighted short story has the right to adapt her story into another medium.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Adapting the Story

Just because the author of a short story has the exclusive right to make adaptations of her work does not necessarily mean that you cannot make an adaptation. If the work has passed into the public domain, you can adapt it as you wish. For some stories, you may need to wait a long time before an adaptation can be made. For example, a story written after January 1, 1978 most likely will not enter the public domain until 75 years after the author's death; a story written in 1754 passed into the public domain a long time ago. The author can also grant you permission to create an adaption. The author can charge you a fee for permission or deny permission completely.


If the author of the short story registers her work with the U.S. Copyright Office, she can sue you for copyright infringement if you adapt her story without permission. In some cases, she can seek either statutory damages or actual damages she incurred as the result of your copyright infringement. As a practical matter, you will most likely not be able to publish, produce or perform any adaption without permission from the author. Any publishers, producers or theater owners that distribute or show your work would also be infringing copyright. They will require you to have the author's permission before they have anything to do with your adaptation.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Copyrighted Book Laws


Related articles

How to Copyright Cross Stitch Designs

Because the point of creating a pattern is normally to allow others to make derivative works from it, you may wonder how, and even if, you can get a copyright. A cross stitch pattern, like other original works, is protected by copyright as soon as it is created, even if it has no copyright notice and is never registered with the U.S. Copyright office. But if someone ever copies your pattern illegally, you must register your copyright before taking the infringer to court. This is something you may want to seriously consider, because someone photocopying your pattern for others to use, could significantly cut into your potential sales.

Can Furniture Be Copyrighted?

Copyright laws give people the exclusive right to profit from their original creative works for a specific length of time. Federal law defines the types of works that can receive copyright protection. Some aspects of furniture design are considered unique artistic endeavors protected by copyright law, just like a sculpture or an architectural plan. However, the functional or utilitarian aspect of furniture design would be covered by patent law rather than by copyright.

How to Add Content to a Blog Without Copyright Infringement

When you start a blog, you want to add content as soon as possible and keep adding content on a regular basis. If you get your content from another website, then you need to be careful not to infringe anyone else's copyrights. If you do infringe a copyright, you might receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act take down notice or be sued. You can add content to your blog without infringing copyrights in several ways.

Related articles

How to Copyright Choreography

A copyright affords protection to creators and owners of unique intellectual property that is fixed in some permanent, ...

Are Advertising Brochures Copyrighted?

Copyrights provide legal protection for people who create original works involving design and imagination, like ...

Can Therapeutic Techniques Be Copyrighted?

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 guarantees the ability of creators to profit from their original work. However, the act ...

Copyright Rules & Time Limits

U.S. federal laws provide the basis for copyright rules and time limits. The general purpose of copyright law is to ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED