Suppose on a web forum I answered a series of questions from different individuals.

Suppose I then wanted to publish and sell the exchange as an ebook. Is this a violation of copyright in the US?

What if the terms of use of the website -- which did NOT require a clicked "affirmation" -- say that anything submitted to the forum is the property of the forum owner?


The copyright in the post belongs to the individual posters. The copyright in the compilation belongs to the forum.

They grant the forum a licence under whatever terms the forum provides for. For example, stack exchange uses Creative Commons CC-BY-SA. Note that this is only a licence between the user and the forum.

What licence, if any, the form gives to the public is up to them. For example, stack exchange licences the material in its “dumps” but not the material on its pages.

If that licence allows your book, you’re good. If not, ypu can use your answer, but not another person’s question.

  • But extracting certain questions and (my) answers to those questions apart, and rearranging them into some wholly other order -- does that still count as a compilation? And what about the questioners' copyrights -- would I have to get permission from each individual questioner, even though I have provided the answers to the questions? – popscreen Jun 29 at 22:55

In order for a compilation to be protected by copyright, it has to have a modicum of creativity. A device that just automatically copies and displays material thrown at it does not add the creative spark that is necessary for protection. It's possible but quite unlikely that a highly-moderated website has human intervention that structures the posts in a sensible manner.

There is a very remote chance that you had to assign copyright in your contributions to the website, in exchange for them posting the material, but otherwise you retain the copyright in your own contributions (so of course you can make it into a book). However, you would need permission from the copyright holder to publish their material. If, for example, you have an extended discussion with User A, you could not publish User A's contribution without permission. You could publish your responses, which might include brief extracts of the original questions (this may be legal under a fair use analysis, depending on the "heft" of the question that you copy into your answer). For instance, if there is a series of short questions like "What are the wages of sin?", you might be able to copy the stimulus questions that you are responding to (and probably did so in your answer, so that readers could figure out what question you were answering).

  • Gotcha, this makes sense, thank you. I guess I was hoping that by asking the question, even if it was an extended exchange, that the users might be deemed to be giving me an implied license to publish their questions... but perhaps not. – popscreen Jun 30 at 12:57

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