I'm teaching a course on computer-science paper writing, and I aim to turn my notes into a book for publication. It's designed specifically for Chinese postgraduate students who are writing their first paper.

In my course (and thus in the book), I use examples from real publications by Chinese authors. Moreover, I use LaTeX's \includegraphics{...} so my quote is visually identical to what's in the paper. I then critique the writing: explaining what I feel is poor, and how I would improve it.

My feeling is that doing this for a paragraph or two with attribution is unproblematic, but:

  • I'm using a large number of snippets, totaling maybe hundreds from different papers.

  • I'm aiming to include a section along the lines of "how to proofread and optimize writing", where I take a single (short) paper, and painstakingly revise a large portion of it. I'm tempted to go through the entire paper, because it contains many examples of writing issues I see repeatedly, and because it's not possible to write one part of a paper in isolation from the other parts.


Question: How can I write a book about paper writing which contains real examples without violating copyright?

I'm not sure what I need to know about this---it'd be my first book.

Update: Thanks for the responses! Virtually all the papers come from the ACM, and each paper lists the copyright; maybe 90% have an ACM copyright. The ACM's policies page says:

Course Material - Permission granted without fee if the course material is produced without charge to the student. (See Commercially produced Course Packs below)

So I'm confident I haven't done anything wrong so far; there's no concerns about me handing out ACM-copyrighted papers. And our university has institutional access, so the students have access anyway.

Also, at this point, I'm only just starting to put a book together, and I need to do this for the course whether or not a book eventualizes. I can simply keep copyright in mind as the book develops. Asking permission from the ACM seems to be a matter of sending an email; I don't know what they will say. (The authors might not be happy about me criticizing their writing.)

  • 2
    Is it feasible to rewrite the example passages in such a way that they still demonstrate the issues you want to discuss, but are no longer in the authors' original words? e.g. "We studied yellow-backed finches" -> "We studied blue-backed gulls". Copyright aside, this might be more tactful than using the original text as an example of poor writing.
    – G_B
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 0:38
  • I am aware that I might make a bunch of Chinese computer scientists grumpy, but I fear the message won't have the same impact if I paraphrase. Basically I want to say "Don't do [foo]. Here are some actual examples of [foo] by Chinese authors. The consequences are [blah]." I want to demonstrate that the problem occurs repeatedly by Chinese authors. I also have "identify the problem" and "fix this snipppet" style exercises. Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 1:03

2 Answers 2


The best solution would be to get permission from each copyright holder for each paper/snippet you use. This is often seen in books ie a list of figures and a statement of permission from each author X and Y and Z.

Using the material may be ok at the moment because it is for an educational purpose, but to put that into a book is probably going to be more a business/profit purpose which is different for copyright...

But I get the impression that you don’t want to do this as you mention “I have hundreds....”

You will need to check this properly with a copyright lawyer / legal team...

  • 4
    Usually the copyright is not of the authors, and the permission should be asked to the copyright's owner, typically the publisher. Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 9:20
  • 3
    I doubt that there is any exception anywhere that would let you reprint an entire paper without permission for any reason. So, for that case, at least, get permission first.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 10:23
  • @MassimoOrtolano edited to copyright holder, but the basic advice is the same...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Oct 13, 2018 at 10:25

Unfortunately, the best time to address such concerns would have been before collecting hundreds of examples, but there's no point in crying over spilled milk. Solar Mike is correct in that it's best to get express permission from each copyright holder. Yes, you are probably allowed quoting a certain amount, but as far as I know there's no international standard as to how much. If you publish a book and want it distributed worldwide, it's probably significantly more straightforward to get permission than to ensure compliance with different countries' copyright laws. I would certainly consult with a copyright lawyer or publisher before attempting the latter.

A second option would be to stick to materials available under public licenses, such as (some of the) Creative Commons licenses. These explicitly allow you to adapt the source material. Specifically, the CC-BY license that is commonly used in open access publishing should work for your purposes, as there is no clause stopping commercial use.

I think this option is particularly useful for your plan of revising a large portion of a single paper. While I don't have any examples specific to academic writing, this approach has been used to great effect in R. Martin's book Clean Code, where long examples of real-life open-source code are iteratively improved and refined.

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