This is possibly a more general question about copyright, but I think I can specify this question into question about teaching, especially on STEM subjects. I don't know exactly whether I should post this on academia SE or matheducator SE.

So, I have a printed version of a Calculus textbook (English). I teach Calculus not strictly following this book and have other delivery methods too (as all instructors should), but it helps me a lot to guide me in some cases. We as instructors also are told to tell students which references are used in this course, but DEFINITELY not to tell them (and better tell them not to) to pirate the ebook version of those references.

However, many students of mine admit that they do not know where to access the materials easily, other than using notes from me, and going to/borrowing from the library (which has limited stock here) and of course pirating (via downloading or copying). Those who only use my notes usually only repeat examples in the notes without doing much exercises as very few are given, as I expect them, and tell them, to find your own sources of exercises besides some that I gave, such as googling notes, libs, etc, legally.

While I cannot pretend that "Hey, I did not tell them to download, so it is not my fault if they do. Sorry, dear author!" since that's just morally wrong, I was thinking that maybe I can help them some way. I think that, at least, they have access to try problems and exercising, since I always make sure my notes cover all the needed materials, but still very much doubt that I have to quote some MORE exercises from the book. And then my question comes in..

  • Would it be that bad to just share them MORE exercises in the Calculus book that I have? Like putting them in my notes too, but instead of just 5 each lecture, I give them 20 that are based on the book. Significantly more problems as long as they do not repeat the just the same 5 problems or so.
  • If you ask me how I share it other than putting them in notes, well, can I just take a picture of few pages containing the intended exercises and share them through a messenger app (not through official site of course)? If that's a no, can I just rewrite/retype them again? This way, of course I will make sure that the exercises are taken from mentioned sources. Also, we are not english natives, so what about translating these exercises while typing them?
  • "Why don't you make your own set of exercises?" This seems to be the ideal approach, but I bought the Calculus book so that I could also show it to anyone near me..and quote some exercises. Also, I don't think making my own set of exercises is that easy, since it takes months to make variations (not just changing numbers/function) for one course WITHOUT reading from many other sources. Besides, these sold out books are to help me, meaning I can use the help to also help others, right? I use my own words to put the materials into the notes, but why should putting set of exercises into my own words also be a must?

If this is too wide, feel free to mark this.

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    "DEFINITELY not to tell them (and better tell them not to) to pirate the ebook version of those references". I'd go further and tell them not to search for it on Library Genesis; not to check out the up-to-date Library Genesis URL on its Wikipedia page; not to scan it in their university library if they can't find it elsewhere. Sin lurks in every corner; how can the young hope to avoid it if they don't know where to look? Apr 9, 2019 at 20:48
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    "However, many students of mine admit that they do not know where to access the materials easily, other than...". Presumably they can also purchase it somewhere such as the bookstore or amazon? If they choose not to, the blame is on them not you. Suppose you gave an assignment that required they use a computer. Would you feel responsibility if they went out and stole a computer because they found the computer lab inconvenient to use? Apr 9, 2019 at 21:06

3 Answers 3


Consider switching to an open text books. Several are listed on pages such as this one.

Or, at the very least, assign problems from open textbooks so your students can do more problems.


There is another possibility. You might actually be allowed to share the exercises and just not know it. In many countries universities have some sort of blanket license which allows copying short excerpts of books for educational purposes. I guess this is more meant to be able to discuss parts of literary works or cite longer passages from important treatises or such, but technically a set of exercises would qualify as a short excerpt. As the details tend to vary wildly between places, your best bet would be to ask a university librarian.


Limited publishing is still publishing. Violating copyright in a limited publication is still a violation.

Turn it around as a thought experiment. You spend a couple of years developing a textbook and put a lot of work into the exercises. It gets published, which means someone spent some real money in getting it into print (Ebooks have different economics, of course). Now suppose you sell exactly one copy of your book for every 200 students and all of your exercises are copied into the "course notes" of some instructors whose notes are widely distributed. Not much of an incentive to write that in the first place.

The original purpose of copyright was to give authors a limited monopoly over their work for a limited time so as to encourage the development of such works. I agree that it has been subverted because of Mickey Mouse et. al. but there is still an economic incentive that isn't being replaced by anything else for such works.

Note also, that, depending on your teaching philosophy, the exercises of a book are it's absolutely most valuable feature. If students are to learn, they need to practice and reinforce their learning. This is what the exercises do. This, in fact, is why you want to reproduce them.

I would just suggest that you respect the efforts of the authors of such things by not re-publishing them in any form, if it is contrary to the stated copyrights of the books.

Open publishing is to be preferred, of course, as are Creative Commons licensing. But if there is no inducement and no reward for writing textbooks, they won't be written and those that are won't be as good. It is both economics and respect. If we could find a way to reward authors other than copyright it would certainly be preferable, but it hasn't happened except in rare instances.

Upper level scholarly works are a bit different, as the rewards can be academic distinction and such. But textbooks come with much less prestige in general.

But of course, it is always possible to ask a copyright holder for permission. It may be granted or not, depending on the scale of duplication, and it may come with a cost.

Additional thoughts since I first wrote this answer.

Note that most exercises in textbooks have some learning objective. That objective is an idea and ideas aren't copyrighted. Often the hardest part of coming up with a set of exercises is first coming up with a list of things that the students need practice on. But textbook authors actually give you that for free, by showing you some things that provide good practice.

You can, IMO, in good conscience, mine the exercises of a book for the ideas that went into them and then coming up with different exercises to test and exercise those same ideas. To do it correctly and honestly doesn't mean changing a few values. It means using your abstraction facilities to find the essence and the providing an exercise that gets to that essence. I would find it hard to condemn that even if you used one of my books as the source.

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    If we could find a way to reward authors other than copyright it would certainly be preferable, but it hasn't happened except in rare instances No, actually other ways to support authors were the norm centuries ago. Copyright was invented in 1662. Art and literature existed long before that date, and there were various means to support them, for instance patronage. Nov 10, 2018 at 19:01
  • @FedericoPoloni, indeed, but hardly ever used for this today. BTW, web cartoonists are, in fact, supported by a patronage system in which a lot of folks contribute a dollar or two a month to cartoonists they like. See patreon.com/home. Unfortunately the maximum market for most textbooks is so small that the prices turn out to be outrageous.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2018 at 19:06
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    @Buffy That's not why the prices "turn out to be" so outrageous.
    – JeffE
    Nov 10, 2018 at 23:07
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    @JeffE, Actually, it is. Otherwise the business model would be pretty easy to undermine. Publishers don't have a legal monopoly. Anyone can play if they can find a better way to create a better product.
    – Buffy
    Nov 10, 2018 at 23:39

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