The Difference Between Original and Derivative Works


When talking about doujin activity, you’ll often hear people use two different words to refer to people’s content: “original works” (一次創作, ichiji sousaku) and “derivative works” (二次創作, niji sousaku), also known as “fan works”. These are words mostly used in the context of doujin activity, but if you’re going to be a doujin doing doujin things, then it’s important to understand the difference, to make sure you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. 



Original? Derivative?

“Original works” are something that a creator thinks of, designs, and produces themselves from the very start. As you might expect from the name, they’re made of completely new ideas. All the rights for the original works go to the creator themselves, and they are what “derivative works” are based on. “Original works”, by the way, also include spin-offs, sequels, and mixed media productions created and publicly released by the original creator. 


“Derivative works” use the world view, characters, setting, or anything else from an original work but are created by someone who isn’t the original creator. This doesn’t just mean manga or fiction doujinshi, but also illustrations, goods like keychains and postcards, games, CDs…anything made by anyone other than the original creator of the original work.


Though both “ichiji sousaku” and “niji sousaku” are words used in the context of doujin culture in Japan, “niji sousaku” (or “derivative works”) was actually the first of the two to be used. As “niji sousaku” became a mainstream word, so then was the word “ichiji sousaku” born out of necessity.



Is It Really Derivative If It’s Original?

Let’s get to the bottom of this question with an example. Let’s say you created some original characters, devised a setting, and even thought up a story. But what if, within that story, a character from another work appears that you didn’t create? Is it still an original work?


The answer is no. 


Even if 99% of your work is completely original, the second you insert that 1% of someone else’s content, it changes from an original work to a derivative work. Generally, trying to claim a derivative work as your original work is a copyright violation as well as a breach of doujin manners. Publishers and contests will reject such works on principle. That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between original and derivative creations before you decide to create something. 



Notes of Caution for Your Doujin Life

Generally speaking, original works are copyrighted to their original creators. If by chance a particular creator has requested that no derivative works be made from their content, making fan content of their works becomes a copyright infringement. 


Though technically you should always ask the original creator for permission to use their content, nowadays most people and companies tolerate fan works, so that’s why we are able to do all the things we can do. But of course, you are definitely not allowed to make derivative works with the intention of making a profit (and that is why we call it “distributing” instead of “selling” at doujinshi fairs). 


However, just because they used copyrighted material from another creator doesn’t mean that derivative creators don’t have their own rights. Because they created something, it belongs to them and should not be used or reproduced without their permission. 


In recent years, there were many incidents of manga being uploaded to various websites, and many famous sites had to be shut down because of it. But did you know that many sites were also closed because of their illegal uploading of doujinshi?


It sounds obvious, but some people don’t know that uploading someone else’s doujinshi or making a profit off of it is also illegal, and a copyright violation. 


Knowing that, we would like to caution you from not only uploading someone else’s works or other illegal acts, but also from using those kinds of websites at all. 


All in all, derivative works borrow the original content of someone else, so when you are making your own, just remember to handle the original content with respect. And in regards to someone else’s fan creation, you should be respectful of their hard work, too. That way, people can continue to make more and more fanart, fanfiction, fan music, and fan doujinshi, everyone can enjoy fan works of their favorite things, and we can all have a happy doujin life!






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