If I'm taking notes on a book I'm studying would I technically be infringing copyright if I didn't properly cite the source on the piece of paper the notes are on? I got curious because I was watching a youtube video and someone explained something so well I copied it down verbatim into google docs. Is this breaking copyright?

I guess what I don't get about fair use is it says it can be used for study, so does that mean as long as you don't actually use it you're ok? For example you're learning how to speak German and you make notes from your book, this is ok but if you actual speak German then you're using it so fair use doesn't apply? Obviously this isn't how it works so I'm curious as to how it does.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Can taking notes violate copyright?
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 0:17
  • Briefly, the problem is that "fair use" is a try-it-and-see defense. The most important thing is that you not get any "gain" from the copying; it needs to have virtually no effect on sales; it should be limited in amount; it should be educational or "commentary". Copying the entirety of something crosses a line. Is that too much? No way to know.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 0:23
  • I think this might depend on whether the thing on google docs is public. One of the exclusive rights of copyright owners is public display. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


It depends on where you are

For example, in USA copyright exists in a literary or artistic work stored in permanent form like a book, a movie, an audio recording, a building etc.

In contrast, in Australia there is no requirement for the work to be stored - that means copyright can exist in a spoken lecture.

The owner of the copyright (usually, but not necessarily the creator) has the right to choose if and how their work is copied and if and how any derivative works may be made from it.

For your example, the book is an original work in which copyright vests with the author(s), your notes are a derivative work in which copyright vests in you.

However, you presumably did not have permission to make your derivative work so that makes it prima facie a copyright infringement.

Fortunately, in the USA there exists a Fair Use defence and in Commonwealth countries the slightly less permissive Fair Dealing defence (if you are somewhere else you will need to do your own research). Search this site or read the copyright article on Wikipedia to learn about these defences.

Long answer short (too late!), taking notes to aid your own study is almost certainly Fair Use/Dealing. So is sharing it with your friends. Publishing it may or may not be depending on all sorts of factors; for example, if you were to write a study guide for say a Harry Potter book for use by English literature students this is probably OK even if it is a for profit activity, because criticism is Fair Use/Dealing.

Citing work is not necessary to comply with copyright law. Failing to cite may be academic misconduct but that is not a legal matter; its a matter for your academic institution.

  • I'm not sure that a derivative work is prima facie infringement. In particular, any form of a derivative work created as part of the normal consumption of a copyrighted work is generally not infringement. This covers things like loading a computer program into RAM - technically a copy, not infringement. As note taking for personal use is part of normal study techniques, it too appears to be OK. Sharing these notes is possibly infringement. And then you have another common exception, derivative commentary works created for educational purposes are often legally exempt.
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 8:46
  • @MSalters All copying is prima facie infringement: the examples you cite have a fair use/dealing defence available.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 20:23
  • @DaleM "All copying is prima facie infringement" Unless the copyright owner has granted permission. Copyright doesn't mean "no copying", it means the copyright owner dictates how the material is to be copied/used (with stuff like fair use/etc. being exceptions for cases where the copyright owner has not granted permission). See also law.stackexchange.com/a/2244/4176, though that answer does seem slightly controversial.
    – JAB
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 1:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .