Recently, I have worked out a solution manual for a book.

I have not found on the Internet any existing complete solution manual for this book.

Since the solution manual of mine contains every exercise given in the book, my question is: In order to publish or distribute publicly this manual, do I have to first request the consent of the publisher of the book?

[Editors note: A solution manual is an accompaniment to a textbook that provides the answers and/or techniques to solve the exercises given in said textbook. Other names for these include: answers keys and teacher's handbook.]

  • 4
    Have you considered approaching the publisher to see whether they themselves will publish your solution manual? It would sidestep a lot of red tape and give your work a better shot at attracting readers.
    – E.P.
    Feb 3, 2015 at 17:48
  • @E.P. Thanks so much. I do have missed this possible option. :)
    – Yes
    Feb 3, 2015 at 18:01
  • 1
    In any case, you should consult a lawyer to explore your options before you approach the publisher, because any mistakes you make the first time will likely be hard to undo.
    – E.P.
    Feb 3, 2015 at 18:27
  • 6
    There may well be an instructor's solutions manual already that is not widely advertised (otherwise students would use it for their homework).
    – mkennedy
    Feb 3, 2015 at 18:46
  • This sounds like a huge project. Did you go to all this trouble because you wanted solutions for your own students to refer to, in a book where this is the required text? If so, then why do you want to publicly distribute the whole thing?
    – user1482
    Feb 3, 2015 at 20:35

3 Answers 3


I would like to offer a viewpoint that dissents from the typical conservative safe take-no-risks-and-get-permission view. Yes, the publisher most clearly owns the copyright and the right to create derivative works. Your work, however, is probably still be protected under a reasonable interpretation of fair use.

In many ways, creating a solution key is actually a very similar activity to writing fan fiction: you like the original so much that you're adding you're filling in the gaps that the creator left with your own additions. As such I would expect that your solution key falls into a similar legal grey area. You are creating a derivative work, but:

  1. You're distributing your solution key as a public service, and making no money from it.
  2. You're not using much of the text (assuming a normal content-to-problem ratio)
  3. Your work enhances the value of the original, rather than detracting from it.

Right now, without having talked to the company, you can in good faith put your solution key online, with appropriate attribution and making sure to point people to the original textbook, and trust that it's a reasonable interpretation of fair use. From here, the most likely scenarios are:

  • The company either doesn't notice, doesn't care, or decides to turn a blind eye, and everybody benefits.
  • The company notices, and asks to make your work official in some way: great!
  • The company notices, and tells you to take it down; you apologize, explaining that you acted in good faith, and comply. Nobody is any worse off than if you hadn't posted it in the first place.

It is very unlikely that the company would do anything more than ask you to take it down: it's not worth the money to them and it would look very bad for them to be so mean-spirited.

If you do approach to the company, however, you force them to take official notice. Their lawyers are not paid to make good things happen: they are paid to take safe and conservative actions. Where they might have ignored it as being beneath their threshold of caring, if you force them to pay attention, the default answer is "no," because "yes" probably takes a lot more work, and it's probably still not worth their time.

Put more tersely: "never ask a question that you don't want to know the answer to."

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

  • 6
    There's a precedent for considering a solution manual to be a derivative work covered by the book's copyright, so a fair use defense would presumably fail (although of course I'm not a lawyer). I think your analysis of the plausible outcomes is probably right, but not based on fair use. One can also make a case that the solution manual would detract from the value of the original, by discouraging people from using the problems in graded assignments or by pre-empting the publisher from selling their own manual someday. Feb 3, 2015 at 18:53
  • @AnonymousMathematician I think that your linked article is entirely coherent with my analysis. This is why I point to fan fiction as a possible analogy: clearly derivative works, but still in a wide grey area with lots of arguable questions and opportunity for fair use or turning a blind eye. This is the sort of area where lawyers often provide a conservative "no" but the de facto answer is often actually "yes."
    – jakebeal
    Feb 3, 2015 at 19:06
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    @AnonymousMathematician: Fair use is an exception to copyright law. The fact that the ruling calls solutions manuals derivative works means that copyright applies. That's entirely different from saying that fair use doesn't apply. The link you gave specifically states that the judge didn't rule on the separate fair use issue.
    – user1482
    Feb 3, 2015 at 20:32
  • 1
    Your work enhances the value of the original, rather than detracting from it — [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Feb 4, 2015 at 4:24
  • @JeffE Citation also needed in the other direction: that's why it's a messy grey area.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 4, 2015 at 4:33

I am not a lawyer.

You should talk to a copyright lawyer before getting into contact with the publisher, as the lawyer may be able to provide additional insight. Having someone who knows the ins and outs on your side helps in such a case, and will protect you from any issues that may arise.

As it stands, this does seem like a copyright issue, and you definitely need to talk to someone on the publisher's side before you do any publishing or distribution on your own.

The material is originally the publisher's, and there's probably legalese already included in the book that indicates the content may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

I'm sure it'd be less of an issue if the exercises themselves were not included, but even then, there's a lot of red tape you'll have to navigate.


IANAL, but to me, looks like the important part here is "the solution manual of mine contains every exercise given in the book".

Now it feels safe to assume that, without the exercises, the book would be considerably less useful as a teaching aid. In which case, the exercises are a "substantial portion" of the work.

Therefore, reproducing them and their solutions as a separate work would require reproducing a "substantial portion" of the work. It could reasonably be argued that anyone who bought the book in order to do the exercises (for a textbook, this is anyone who is studying for an exam) would be more likely to purchase your derivative work, so you would have harmed their market by publishing.

If, instead, you only gave the question numbers, and not the questions themselves, then I'd guess that no copyright issue could be argued, any more than publishing a walkthrough for a computer game.

However, it would be in the publisher's interest to change some of the questions in their next edition, and then sell their own solution book, so odds are your book would only work for a single edition.

The publisher is more likely to go to the original author and ask if they'd provide an answer book, than to accept one from you, even pre-written.

[Edit: if it is a textbook, odds are very high that there already IS a teacher's guide produced by the publisher, with all the answers. In which case, yeah, you'd be essentially competing directly against them, and they will come after you, whether or not they have a case. Defending yourself might work, but odds are their tactic will be to keep suing and appealing until you give up or run out of money. A publisher WILL have bigger and better lawyers than you, and wILL defend itself from a direct attack on its revenue like this - if they let one slide, then there'd be nothing to stop you bringing out a second, for another book, and so on.]

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