I'm writing a style guide for programming and one of the examples I'm providing for describing what it's like to read bad code is by comparing it to reading a bad novel.

I know through experience that typesetting can greatly benefit the comfort of the reader and I would like to provide actual examples of this from other works. Am I able to provide a picture of whole pages, portions or pages, does it have to be public domain work, etc.

The information I'm interested in is the typesetting and not the actual content. I believe that someone's presentation of even public domain work has rights, which is why this is questionable. It's not the content but that person's presentation that I want to provide an example of for critique.

  • If it is the typesetting and not the actual content, why not use Lorem Ipsum for text and layout? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorem_ipsum Jul 9, 2018 at 3:25
  • This is an interesting suggestion. I'm afraid that this might make it more difficult for the reader to discern what has actually changed and otherwise "tone out" Lorem Ipsum where they would otherwise be able to differentiate between recognizable passages and layout.
    – Zhro
    Jul 9, 2018 at 3:37

2 Answers 2


Showing the format of public works books on a single page would make it a compilation. As long as you use material that is not copyrighted, you can make all the compilations you want and if yours is unique enough, you can copyright it. The rules for copyrights in compilations are explained here: https://www.commarts.com/columns/is-it-true-that-copyright-doesn-t-protect-graphic-design

A compilation of copyrighted items is not legal without permission.


You could create a page of simulated content, part of a fake novel or text, for the purpose. This would allow you to introduce exactly the errors or infelicities you like, and avoid distraction by the actual real content Creating one page of content shouldn't be an onerous burden.

If you really want to use images of existing book pages, and you are giving detailed comment on their formatting and typesetting, that is probably a "transformative use" and strengthens an argument for fair use under US law. But fair use is never guaranteed, and specific legal advice is generally advisable before relying on it. If this would not be in a US context, the rules/laws are different.

  • As long as the books are public domain he should be ok with that.
    – Putvi
    Apr 9, 2019 at 23:09
  • @Putvi there can be a separate copyright in the typesetting and layout of a work whose text is in the public domain. Since the OP wants to display and call attention to typesetting and layout, and wants to use actual book pages, this is a potential issue, and is not settled by knowing that the text is PD. Apr 10, 2019 at 1:03
  • Yes, but the layout would need to be substantial enough to be copyrighted. Just because you can copyright some layouts doesn't mean the average book layout from the 40s, or whenever the book was written, is copyrightable. Not every legal idea has to apply to every case. I was speaking about the situation here and not general legal ideas.
    – Putvi
    Apr 10, 2019 at 17:53
  • @Putvi It is possible that the layout and typesetting are not original enough to be protected. Since the question deosn't say what book or when it was published, even to a decade, but does say that the typesetting is of sufficient interest to be displayed as an example, my answer plays safe by supposing it may be protected. Your comment appears to discount or ignore that. Since the question asked specifically about such copyrights, i addressed them. I did not say the layout/typsetting was surely protected. Apr 10, 2019 at 18:16
  • @Putvi: Even if a publisher regarded its layout of a poem within a public domain novel as a copyrightable aspect of its work, reproduction of that page in an original discussion of typographical layout, detached from the rest of the novel, would constitute Fair Use under any reasonable reading of the U.S. statutes, since all four prongs would favor it.
    – supercat
    Aug 1, 2022 at 16:06

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