I had an idea to improve education in my country with the help of textbooks by popular authors. I thought to publish videos on YouTube with comments and practical explanations about what the author wanted to say. However, the problem is that any textbook is copyrighted and cannot be quoted. This annoys me wildly, these rules just limit the creative ways of teaching the subject, especially mathematics. What do you think about that? Is it wise to put up such barriers?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand why you think textbooks shouldn't be copyrighted. Indeed, writing a textbook usually involves a much greater investment of time by an author than writing a novel or a nonfiction book, except perhaps for a (well researched) biography of someone. College texts are often the end result of several years of refinements of notes for a course taught many times, and school texts are usually a collaboration among many that requires extremely careful attention to field-specific pedagogy, appropriate grade-level exposition, and solid command of various curricula requirements. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ Not all are copyrighted. Look for OER (open educational resources). Also CC means creative commons, and it's an open licensing system to say this is my work, but you can copy it. Also, in the U.S. the law allows using short segments for educational purposes. I wonder what the law is in your country. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ Copyright certainly does not prohibit quoting from a protected work. What you describe may very well be permitted under ”fair use” guidelines. $\endgroup$
    – mweiss
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @SuevanHattum The O in OER stands for "open". $\endgroup$
    – G. Allen
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ @SueVanHattum “Not all are copyrighted.” Some free culture is not copyrighted. Much of it is. Anything licensed under a Creative Commons licence is copyrighted, as Creative Commons licences are copyright licences. This point seems to be poorly understood by most people, and your comment does not help. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


Under the laws in most countries, a work such as a book is automatically copyrighted as soon as it is written down. Putting the copyright notice in the book isn't what makes it copyrighted. The notice just makes it easier to sue for copyright violation, because it's harder for the person who copied to claim they didn't know the work was copyrighted.

For this reason, it's pretty much true that all textbooks published within the last century are still in copyright. However, many people do write textbooks and intentionally make them free to access. I run a web site, http://theassayer.org/ , that catalogs such books. People refer to these as open educational resources, OERs.

You can probably produce a commentary or work of criticism on a copyrighted work without violating copyright, and likewise for quoting short sections. This varies from country to country, e.g., US fair use is very permissive.

If you want to make a derivative work from an OER, you can do so. However, you should read the license carefully. Some licenses, such as the CC-By-SA license used by wikipedia, require that your derivative work be released under the same license.

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    $\begingroup$ “such as the CC-By-SA license used by wikipedia” Scroll down for a better example: “site design / logo © 2021 Stack Exchange Inc; user contributions licensed under cc by-sa.” $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ Complete tangent, but your site doesn't support HTTPS. That might be a good idea, since you have a log-in form; otherwise people's credentials could be intercepted, and we all know how much people tend to re-use passwords. If you need help configuring Let's Encrypt (a free TLS certificate provider), I'm more than happy to help. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ Following up on wizzwizz4’s comment: I also tried to access your site using HTTPS and it failed. Every site should support HTTPS. On another tangent, I tested account creation and got this: “Your password has been e-mailed to [email protected].” Perhaps not the best way to handle passwords. We have a whole site dedicated to these issues. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4: Thanks very much for your offer. The site is old and the code quality is bad. It really needs a complete rewrite. An account is not needed to browse the site, only to submit new books, and essentially nobody is doing that these days. I'm just going to disable creation of new accounts for now. $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ @BenCrowell If you don't mind releasing the source under the AGPL license (probably somewhere like codeberg.org), there are people who'd be willing to do that complete rewrite for you. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 18:09

Copyright is related to works, not ideas or facts.

To quote the Oxford Learners Dictionaries:

if a person or an organization holds the copyright on a piece of writing, music, etc., they are the only people who have the legal right to publish, broadcast, perform it, etc., and other people must ask their permission to use it or any part of it

The important part is that copyright is always related to "works"; which means anything tangible in some form or fashion. The details on this vary between different legislatures, but copyright never covers ideas, only ever the expression of those. The source of the term is literally the right to copy something. Ideas cannot be copied, hence the category simply does not apply.

As an example: if you look at copyrights on cooking recipes, it is fine to copy and re-use the actual recipe content (i.e., the "idea" - the list of ingredients and the instructions of how to combine them) as long as you do not copy that verbatim. If there is accompanying text, copyright regulations certainly apply to that. The itemized list ("5 apples", "3 eggs") is usually not copyrighted because it's just too trivial - there are only so many ways to represent this. Of course, if you wrap your recipe in stories about the country where the recipe is from, or add history lessons or some kind of story, then those bits are definitely copyright-worthy material.

The same applies to any other field. Nobody can copyright a mathematical proof, a computer algorithm, an instruction of how to build a house, or any other "content". You can only ever copyright the "work" which explains the ideas (in the case of the computer algorithm, that would be the actual program implementing it, for example). While there are plenty of discussions about where the exact borders lie, you can always take the information content and wrap it in your own words / videos / audio representation.

Finally, be sure not to mix this up with patents - patents are basically the opposite and can be used to protect ideas; the requirements to receive a patent are therefore also much more strict. The copyright is owned by default, in many jurisdictions, or with trivial effort (e.g., just by writing it somewhere near your work).

So to wrap it up: you can use all information from the textbooks freely (as long as you create your own material to express it), but you usually can never just copy stuff verbatim. Exceptions exist ("fair use") but I think that's not what you're asking about.

US-specific sources for reference Baker vs Selden, 17 U.S. Code § 102, similar regulations would be applicable in other legislations.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not a lawyer, but a copyright may extend to Derivative Work (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work). You also can't copyright facts. I'm pretty sure that you can copyright a recipe, and that that copyright would extend to a substantially similar recipe with only a few words changed in the instructions (as a derivative work). The point of copyright is to protect the author's rights. The point of a patent is to encourage inventors to disclose the details of their invention (in return for a limited duration protection of their ideas) $\endgroup$
    – Flydog57
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ You can copyright the actual recipe (i.e. the way the words are written, the concrete representation, the images on the page, maybe even the creative way you used fonts and colors, whatever). But you cannot copyright the idea (or fact) that if you mix eggs with bacon and roast them in a pan you end up with bacon & eggs. And since there is no way to write "5 eggs" instead of "5 eggs", you cannot copyright the words "5 eggs". And no, I'm no lawyer either, but that's what's being discussed in (for example) the big world of cooking - see my link - and also IT (copyright on algorithms vs. code) $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Flydog57: For the US law on things of that nature, see Baker v. Selden and 17 USC 102(b). You will find analogous restrictions in most other copyright regimes. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Kevin, I've copied those links into the answer. $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 7:42

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