Here's an example of how I might document a function call to some external API, external library etc. Their API may have T&Cs, or the libary may force me to abide by a license, that's fine, but what about their documentation?

In the below example, I copy an extract verbatim from their website, in order to describe interaction with their code.

Does this qualify as fair use or fall under some other legal provision?

// This is a string from external documentation, copied off a third party website
// It describes something meaningful about the api/dll etc I'm going to be calling here

func (s *foo) GetBars(id int) (Bars) {
    // todo implementation 

The MIT licence, which is pretty permissive, still appears to only apply to the software. I think it's reasonable to include documentation in the same repository as the same "software", but what about supporting documentation on a website? (Note that this argument wouldn't seem to apply to web APIs, lets take Githubs API terms of service as an example, because there is not really any software being licenced.)

  • Incidently, I get that the IRL answer is "who the hell would sue a cosumer of their code/services over something this petty", but indulge me anyway. "3. Microsoft Content." here might refer to what I'm taking about.
    – Nathan
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


It's never been tested. I'd guess because the content owners don't care. Here's the basic structure of what an argument in favor of fair use (17 USC §107) would look like:

  • The use is for communicating to future coders/readers what you're doing with that call. That use is non-commercial.
  • The original copyrighted work is descriptive, not being sold, and its intended audience is coders trying to understand the API.
  • The portion that is taken is a small part of the whole original and of not much value on its own when separated from the rest of the documentation.
  • Has no effect on the market of the original copyrighted work.
  • What is your best shot at an argument against fair use?
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 14:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .