A few years ago, I made a science study guide for a specific chapter of a textbook for some people I was tutoring. I would like to sell it now, but unfortunately I used a ton of separate sources from the internet and from separate textbooks. I also used a few diagrams from the internet. If I specify that I only wish to be paid for the time that it took to set up the study guide, can I sell it as long as I don't claim to have made the material? Or can I claim the purchase as a donation to keep my blog going?


I will assume that the study guide copies significant amounts of the original text book, other text books, and online sources, since your concern is copyright. All copying requires permission, which seems to be lacking; the question of "claiming to have made the material" is about plagiarism, which is not a legal matter. The only path for copying without permission is via fair use. One of the significant factors governing fair use is the free / paid distinction: if you get paid, as you propose, that counts against fair use. The work probably fares well in terms of "transformativeness", but not so well in terms of substantiality. It probably also fair better in terms of "nature of the original", which is science and not art, except that images are strong permission-triggers (the publishing rule is pretty much that all images require permission).

  • Thank you. Your answer was very informative and I appreciate the feedback on my question.
    – M. Miller
    Jun 21 '17 at 21:09

The intent of copyright laws is to protect the original work of the author.

In your case, while you have spent considerable effort to assemble works from a variety of sources, each diagram, each paragraph which you copy, reuses without compensation, work done by someone else. For that, they are entitled to compensation.

On the other hand, if you were to review their work, or make fun of it, or have some other "transformative" use of it, then generally you do not have to provide attribution nor do you have to give credit to the original author.

You may wish to review the fair use doctrine for a better understanding of how you can use their work.

The question you raise is an interesting one, because you could just as easily be paid to do a compendium of study notes, where you are charging for your effort to research and compile your material. But it is that act of providing copies of someone else's work which you cannot charge for. One way around some of this is to publish "The Guide to Understanding Chapter 6 of Smith's Quantum Computing" and work out with Smith permission to quote his book. Presumably Smith would be receptive, because your book supports (not displaces) sales of Smith's book.

One other possible way around this might be to have your work link to web resources, so that you aren't actually republishing.

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