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I am having a bit of a hard time with copyright and copyright infringement. I am thinking about writing books about many different things, such as:

  • How to use this software
  • How to be a good programmer and think like a programmer
  • What neural nets are, how they work, and how to codify one.

Everything is mostly based on things that I have experienced and thought I would have liked to know if I wasn't where I was now. The problem is, there exist other books which do the same thing, and some ideas might overlap, isn't this then an infringement of copyright?

This Stack Exchange post has been helpful, but I still find it a little bit vague. What exactly can I consider copyrighted and what can't I, especially in the software development community where not everything is expressly a fact, just an accepted-as-fact opinion? Much like the idea I had about writing about the different parts of artificial neural networks, how they work and how to codify them. Surely the formulae are copyright free, since the math cannot be copyrigthed, right? There are, however, many books on the matter, but not every book explains all the formulae, or even all the parts of the model that they share. If I write a book about it, then, aren't I infringing on copyright? Do I have to ask permission from every author I can find that wrote a book on it in some way or another?

I ask this since I am rather confused, and just that one answer has given me some relief, but what is a fact then in the software community?

  • If you write your own description on how to use a program, and it just so happens that your description is exactly the same as someone else's, that is not necessarily infringement. Maybe there are only a few ways to do a particular thing in a particular program, and for a given way to do that thing, maybe there are only a few ways to express how to do it using that way. You need to remember that copyright protects copying. Writing about the same thing, explaining the same thing, describing the same thing, and so on are not generally copying. – Brandin Oct 3 '18 at 5:30
  • As an example, to start a command prompt on Windows, you can "press Win+R and type cmd and press Return." That is a fact and it is also a short expression. I just searched on the Web and notice several other people used the same exact words to express this fact, even though I didn't copy theirs. Since the sentence is so short, there are only a few possible ways to express the fact of this sequence of actions. But if you write a book about Windows, covering how to do many things, it will be very unlikely that your book will closely resemble someone else's, unless you did copy it. – Brandin Oct 3 '18 at 5:37
  • This actually helps me quite a bit. Thanks. Copyright and Licenses are a rather new thing for me, and any and all help is appreciated. I am just a little bit wiser now. – Gary Oct 5 '18 at 8:32
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Writing about the same subject matter as one of more existing publications does not constitute copyright infringement, nor is it infringement if you make the same claim as someone else, or use the same evidence as someone else, because these are "facts", and not expressions (copyright protects specific expressions). In the world of computer programming, the line between fact and expression is closest in the realm of pseudocode descriptions of a program or algorithm. Verbatim copying of the bubble sort pseudocode could be infringing, but writing functionally identical pseudocode would not be infringing. In this instance, it might be difficult to establish that a given example was copied as opposed to reconstructed by reference to the basic idea behind bubble sort, because the code is necessarily short, and the names used in that source are what would likely be used even if you hadn't seen the original.

  • This makes quite a bit of sense. It seems that I had a somewhat incorrect idea about copyright. – Gary Oct 5 '18 at 8:34
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there exist other books which do the same thing, and some ideas might overlap, isn't this then an infringement of copyright?

It is not. In this case, you would be sharing your opinion or ideas, which you reached as a result of your personal experience. It is extremely unlikely that someone else previously reached and published those same ideas using sufficiently similar terms. And if those ideas were so common, they would not even qualify for copyright protection.

not every book explains all the formulae, or even all the parts of the model that they share. If I write a book about it, then, aren't I infringing on copyright?

No. As I understand it, you would be filling the gaps about aspects [of a model] which have not been explained. As such, no one could reasonably allege infringement of copyright.

Do I have to ask permission from every author I can find that wrote a book on it in some way or another?

No. Something like that would bring the release of literature and research to a halt. You are not planning to copy others' expression of ideas. Citing where models came from would be the proper thing to do, though.

  • Your answer has helped me quite a bit, I do, however, still have one question. If we have a look again at the Model for Artificial Neurons. This model is documented, but each book essentially only covers a subset of it that is useful for their book. Thus, if I were to explain the whole model, and how they are used, and how they can be used, I would not be infringing on copyright, so long as I state where the model comes from. This is true as the model is seen as "fact"? – Gary Oct 5 '18 at 8:37
  • @Gary Your empirical/reasoned remarks about models do not constitute copyright infringement. And the mere fact that you embrace a more comprehensive, more through analysis of the model does not put you in copyright infringement either. – Iñaki Viggers Oct 5 '18 at 12:02
  • Thank you for helping me clear this up. I greatly appreciate the help. It may be stupid, but I prefer to live by the code of "better safe than sorry", and you have helped me greatly in this regard. – Gary Oct 5 '18 at 15:41
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An idea is never protected by copyright. (This is true of both facts and opinions.) The words and images used to describe or express that idea usually are protected. If you use your own words, and create your own images, to express ideas you learned from other people's works, that is not copyright infringement. However, close paraphrasing of someone else's words is a form of copying and will often be considered infringement. Similarly, imitating someone else's diagram, even though you redraw it, may be infringement. When there are only a few 'obvious' ways of describing something, using one is not generally infringement, even if the wording or organization of the text is similar.

Even when you are not infringing copyright, it is good practice to acknowledge your sources, or the more significant sources. It may also help your readers. But you do not have to acknowledge every text that dealt with the same general subject.

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