I recently encountered someone that wrote a paper including 100 pages of pasted (computer) code. When I suggested that the pages of code could be better uploaded and made freely available on github.com (a public open platform where people upload code to share, and can specify a license for the code) as it is common practice.

He answered that due to copyright he could not do that. How would disclosing code printed on paper be different from disclosing it on a web page?

  • 1
    The medium in which the copy is made does not matter, but the circumstances of distribution might have a bearing on a fair use defense.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 18:33
  • @phoog thanks for your comment, in this matter I am trying to differenciate between : X publish code on paper, X publish the same content on website, same availability. Would this clarifies the above post?
    – statquant
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 18:51
  • Is he the author of the code, or did he cut and paste someone else's code into his paper?
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 21:22
  • I don't think the question particularly needs to be clarified; the paper's author is either confused about copyright law or has some specific exemption, such as fair use, in mind.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 21:25
  • The author may have an arrangement with the publisher that restricts further publication online, as it would interfere with the revenue stream for the paper publication. The author may have given the publisher the "exclusive" rights of some or more of his copyright elements.
    – Upnorth
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


The relevant difference is that github.com is a public open platform, while the hard copy paper would presumably be available only to a small number of intended recipients (e.g. a teacher in a coding class), for a purpose consistent with "fair use."

If the hard copy version were, for example, posted on a billboard in a public place the way they publish newspapers in China, as show below, it would be equally problematic from a copyright perspective.

enter image description here

  • 1
    thanks, the paper was published on linkedin.com, so I guess I can summarise you answer by 'given the degree of openness is the same' it doesn't matter if it is posted in a pdf on linkedin or github.com
    – statquant
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 20:50

It might be me who wrote the code and I gave permission to publish it on printed paper, but not the permission to publish it in an electronic medium. That would be one obvious situation. If I have the copyright, I'm absolutely free to allow some kinds of copies but not others.

There is quite outside of law the possibility that this person doesn't want to publish on GitHub and came up with some lame excuse. If you prove that there are no copyright related reasons, he may come up with the next lame excuse and eventually admit that he doesn't want to publish on github - in other words, you'll get nowhere.

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