My plan is to make a YouTube channel with a curriculum based on a pretty well-known textbook.

I want to reformulate and re-present the ideas in my own way. I will not take any direct quotes from the book. I will try to make money off of the videos.

The way the theory of the videos lines up completely with the theory of the book, it is unquestionably derivative of that book. I remember hearing about lawsuits where a musician sued another, even because they thought a chord progression, and maybe melody, sounded too similar to their own.

Is the nature of copyright that you own the ideas in your book, not just the words?

For example, I am pretty sure you cannot sell a book with characters resembling those of Harry Potter, even if fan fiction, a new story. Perhaps that’s trademark infringement?

Assuming I make it publicly known where I drew the information from, can the publisher claim infringement/intellectual property theft for reselling a theory?

In the modern world, what is the precise limit of what part of a book you can no longer own?

  • 8
    This appears to be a legal question to me, where the fact that the endeavor is academic is also of relevance, but perhaps secondary. My suggestion is to ask the question also at law.stackexchange.com (?) and add your country - legal questions depend heavily on the country. There are certainly some rules of thumb that are valid enough in many countries, but especially since you are asking for a precise limit, the country appears to be of relevance.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 9:10
  • I wonder, how it is different from citing a research paper in our own work (which is perfectly fine, if done properly)? Sometimes, our research paper has a dedicated section explaining the previous work because our works extends it. We don't claim the work as ours. We fully acknowledge it and our effort is in explanation. Similarly, professors/teachers refer books to students and explain concepts from them (even solve some exercises) in the lecture. Isn't it fine? However, professor never claims the work and his salary is the result of his effort in explanation.
    – foobar
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 11:59
  • Also, I would suggest another approach that I found in an online udemy course. The course was about discrete mathematics. The instructor designed his curriculum on an 'Open Source' book related to that subject, instead of a popular copyrighted book.
    – foobar
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 12:02
  • There is the concept of "fair use" which is often quite difficult to define and produces a law suit now and then. There is also the notion that getting legal advice from the internet is, um, well, troublesome.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:39
  • 1
    Please post to law stackexchange. This is an interesting legal question and you will get much better answers there! Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 15:07

2 Answers 2


While the answer of gnasher729 has most of the main ideas, note that one of the things that copyright law generally protects is the ability to make "derived works". These rights are reserved to the copyright holder. (Caveat: copyright law varies.)

So, while the ideas are free to use and you can't use the specific expression, you also need to avoid making a derived work without permission. The way you describe your work is probably not allowed, though it is up to the copyright holder to complain.

One important consideration in copyright law is whether some use reduces the economic value of the original. If your videos make the book unnecessary then it is almost certainly infringing.

But the solution is to ask the copyright holder for permission, fairly describing your work to them. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that they will consider it an enhancement of the value of the book (or neutral) and give you explicit permission. They might even advertise your work for you.

Note that "ideas" per se are not copyrightable, nor owned by anyone. IP law is concerned with creative expression of ideas (or "devices" in the case of patents), not the ideas themselves.

Also note that copyright is intended to eventually expire, though that has been called into doubt recently. But old things can be reused/repurposed. You still need to avoid plagiarism by citing originals, however.

Finally (I hope), if you couldn't draw ideas from the works of others, science and scholarship in generally would halt. We build on the ideas of others.

  • Thank you! If I prefer autonomy, I will need to adapt my project to be confidently within the bounds of “fair use”. Perhaps this is a precise guide? copyright.gov/fair-use Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 11:08

Ideas are not protected by copyright whatsoever, it is the expression in fixed form (usually written, sometimes audio or video recording) that is protected. So you can take ideas.

Be very careful not to copy anything from the actual book. That is difficult for some people and may require a lot of discipline. It is hard (for some people) to read something in a book and then to express it in your words without using anything from the book.

Your "Harry Potter" example is based on trademarks. You can't write a book that draws on people recognising the similarity between your book and the "Harry Potter" books. It must stand on its own. So if what you create refers to the other book, you are on dangerous ground.

  • 1
    Actually, it is a bit more complex than this implies.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 12:36
  • the organization of the book, for example, may be under copyright though. So if you make videos in the order of the chapters of the book, that can be infringement.
    – Esther
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:07
  • @Esther, yes, a Table of Contents might be considered "creative", hence subject to copyright. Likewise all images in the book.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:27
  • See wikipedia for more on fan fiction and its legality: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_fiction
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:29

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