Copyright infringement is a serious matter that arises when someone uses, reproduces, or distributes copyrighted material without permission from the original creator. However, the question of whether making changes to someone’s work and presenting it as your own constitutes copyright infringement is a complex issue. In this article, we will explore the boundaries of copyright law and examine the circumstances under which modifying someone’s work may or may not be considered infringement.

Understanding Copyright Infringement

Copyright law grants certain exclusive rights to creators, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works based on their original creations. These rights are intended to protect the economic interests and creative integrity of the original authors or artists. Any unauthorized use that infringes upon these rights can lead to legal consequences.

Copying with Modifications: A Gray Area

When it comes to copying someone’s work and making modifications, whether it’s a written piece, video, or painting, the situation becomes more nuanced. The general rule is that making a copy of something without permission is considered infringement, unless the modifications are substantial enough to sever the connection to the original work.

Determining Substantial Similarity

To determine whether a modified work infringes upon the original copyright, courts often evaluate the concept of “substantial similarity.” This assessment examines whether the modified work retains enough elements of the original to be deemed infringing. Factors considered include the amount and importance of the copied material, the degree of modification, and the overall impression created by the modified work.

Transformative Use and Fair Use

One crucial consideration in determining copyright infringement is the concept of transformative use. Transformative use occurs when a modified work significantly alters the original, resulting in a new creative expression or purpose. In some cases, transformative use may be considered fair use, which is a legal doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission, typically for purposes such as criticism, commentary, parody, or educational use.

Fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis and involves considering four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the market for the original work. However, it’s important to note that claiming fair use as a defense against copyright infringement is not always straightforward and can be subject to interpretation.

Applying the Principles

Applying these principles to the examples mentioned earlier, modifying someone’s written workout, video, or painting and presenting it as your own may indeed constitute copyright infringement if the modifications are minimal and the connection to the original work remains intact. In such cases, the modifications might be seen as derivative works that require permission from the original creator.

On the other hand, if the modifications are extensive enough to create a new and transformative work with no substantial similarity to the original, it might be considered fair use and not infringing. The key lies in ensuring that the modifications are substantial, resulting in a distinct and original creation.


Copyright infringement is a complex issue, particularly when it comes to modifying someone’s work. While it is generally illegal to copy someone’s work without permission, there is a gray area when modifications are made. To avoid potential legal issues, it is advisable to seek permission from the original creator or, when appropriate, ensure that modifications are substantial enough to create a distinct and transformative work. Consulting a legal professional specializing in copyright law can provide further guidance on specific cases.

Video Transcript

Is It Illegal to Copy Someone’s Work if You Change It?

So imagine that you see something written up, or maybe you see a video and you say, “You know what? That is great, but what I am gonna do is change the words of it. And then, I am going to put that same video out or same written workout.” Or maybe it is even a painting. You see a painting, and you know what, say, “I am gonna change a few things. Instead of having pine trees, I am gonna have aspen trees. Instead of having a cabin, I am gonna have a barn.” Is that considered copyright infringement? And the short answer is it is a gray area. But as a general rule, if you are making a copy of something, you are infringing it unless you are so substantially changing it that there is no real connection to the past piece.

This has come up a lot recently with music because one artist will have a song, and another artist might take a little beat from that song or a little rhythm or just a little snippet. They will borrow a little component of the music and use that. Vanilla Ice with Ice Ice Baby was a famous example from a number of years ago where that little opening sequence, which then played throughout the song, was lifted from Queen, the artist or the band Queen.

And ultimately, because Queen claimed infringement, it is my understanding that Vanilla Ice and his group agreed to give all the proceeds or profits from that song over to Queen. That was a settlement. But ultimately, they did that because they knew it would be copyright infringement. And even if you borrow somebody’s idea, or I should say their work, and make a few changes to it, you might have a copyright in those changes. It is called a derivative copyright, but that is still infringing the original owner’s mark.


So my advice to people is to create your own music, create your own webpages, create your own videos. It is one thing to have concepts that you utilize, but it is quite another thing to kind of copy what they are doing and just try to tweak things to make it look different.

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