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Basic definitions and resources for learning more about fair use, public domain, copyright, and licensing.
Definitions and Considerations
Copyright: "Copyright is a form of protection given to the authors or creators of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works" (https://www.csusa.org).
Public Domain: Creative materials not protected by intellectual property laws (e.g. copyright)
Fair Use: "In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement" (https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/what-is-fair-use/).
Option: Temporary contractual agreement between a producer and the author of a source material to provide sole purchasing rights to the producer.
Considerations and Legal Liabilities for Adapting Text
Even if you adapt a public domain text, you can still be held liable for willfuly and deliberately malicious or false representation of a public figure.
You can try to avoid defamation claims with disclaimers (e.g. "Any similarities to people living or dead are coincidental") but it does not exempt you from facing potential lawsuits.
Historical facts cannot be copyrighted. Creative expressions of historical facts can be copyrighted.