Can a person violate copyright by taking notes? For example if I am reading a book and want to copy a full paragraph, word for word, into my notes and don't cite it, is that copyright violation? What if the notes are online (Google Drive) and I want to add a picture, and I copy and paste a picture of McDonald's or a famous piece of artwork into it. Technically, would that be breaking copyright?

My understanding is that fair use has nothing to do here as fair use applies to something (sort of) new.

1 Answer 1


Well, actually, fair use is maximally relevant. Copyright means, put simply, DO NOT COPY. Citing or not is irrelevant (plagiarism is a whole other non-legal kettle of fish). Technically, what you describe is violation of copyright. However, under section 107 of Title 17 (the copyright law), you could attempt to defend yourself against an infringement suit on the basis that your action was "fair use". See this LSE q&a for the essentials of fair use.

  • So technically studying is illegal? For example if I try to memorize the authors definition of homeostasis and write it down that's copyright infringement?
    – DannyD
    May 26, 2016 at 5:28
  • I don't think that memorization would qualify as making a copy, but it's an interesting theory that can't be tested. Writing it down, on the other hand... I didn't write the law.
    – user6726
    May 26, 2016 at 14:58
  • 3
    Describing fair use as technically a violation of copyright is confusing if not inaccurate. If copyright law allows fair use then how is fair use a violation of the law? The very code you link to says the fair use of a copyrighted work ... is not an infringement of copyright.
    – phoog
    May 26, 2016 at 16:03
  • I'm adopting the OPs concept of "technically". The law is very clear on what is infringement, and not at all clear on what is not. So technically (literally) it is infringement, but there are suggestions as to how you might argue that it's actually allowed.
    – user6726
    May 26, 2016 at 16:46
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    "Fair use" is a doctrine. "Copyright law" is a category of law that may follow or enshrine "fair use" in its content. Plenty of countries don't have fair use doctrines as strong as that of, say, the United States. Dec 14, 2016 at 22:34

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