I am a private tutor for (mostly) high school maths and physics students.

Recently a student came to me with an elegant little problem that he had been given on an exam. The problem was very short, and easy for him to remember, but he and others had found it difficult to solve. It required synthesizing the material he had studied in a way that required some creativity. (At least, at the high school level.)

I worked through the solution with him.

I create content (videos and papers) that I publish on the internet. I would like to share this intruiging application of high school precalculus.

Here's the concern: Does the teacher or whoever else who created the problem own the problem? Am I unethically making the problem useless for other exams or homework by publishing it? What if I alter it so that the process is the same, but the numeric solution is different? Do I need the permission of the problem's author to use it at all?

To be clear, it's not a "word" problem, but simply a "solve this interesting equation" problem.

  • Regarding copyright laws, you do require permission from author & publisher, before you ever post online the question from exam papers or books. Alternatively, you could write your own questions nearly similar to those in exams.
    – user92331
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 19:47
  • 2
    Why not ask the student to ask the teacher, who might be interested in working on the web posting with you? Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 1:35
  • Another possible problem may be plagiarism. That is: you publish the problem without mentioning the original source.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 21:02
  • Maybe relevant (teacher sues students for copyright infringement after they publish an exam): nbcnews.com/news/us-news/…
    – Neal Young
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


There is an alternative that avoids the question asked here entirely and would even be more valuable to your readers.

Think about what it is about that equation (or other question) that makes it interesting. Abstract from that to a more general question that also covers the specific case.

Then present a way of thinking about that class of problems that will lead someone to a successful solution. Explain the thinking process. Explain any connections to similar things. Etc.

Then, you can publish that freely.

Note that words, but not ideas, can be bound by copyright. Take the idea and expand it. Anyone is free to do that.


As suggested in Ethan Bolkers comment: Ask the teacher, either directly or through the student and aim for a joint or collaborative web posting.

Copying the problem from the exam verbatim is at the very least questionable. I'm not sure whether they are legal copyright issues but you shouldn't do it anyway. Using the key idea of the problem, rephrased in your own words and with different numbers is fine. It is also highly unlikely that the teacher came up with this completely new problem. More likely the teacher also just found it somewhere and adapted it for their exam.

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