I make extensive notes on the material I encounter all over the Internet (video courses, textbooks, blogs etc). I want to make my hard earned notes available free over the Internet. But if I do that, then it won't be fair as everybody will want to read the notes and won't buy textbooks.

Is it copyright violation if I share my notes over my blog?

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    No, it's not a copyright violation, since you hold copyright for your notes. However, I'm curious about what makes you think that your notes are (will be) better than textbooks? Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 13:47
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    It will include my own practical examples where I try these concepts in real world.
    – piby180
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 13:49
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    @AleksandrBlekh I see no reason to discourage addition of more material to the world: it may well be different and interesting.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 13:53
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    @jakebeal: I'm not discouraging - just helping to perform a "reality check". I might be wrong, but it seems to me that the OP doesn't fully realize that in order for someone to prefer the OP's materials to textbooks, the former should be of rather high quality. Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 13:58
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    @piby180: By all means, feel free to do whatever you feel will help you and, perhaps, other people. I was just slightly alarmed by your direct comparison of personal notes and textbooks. Plus, AFAIK, many ML books contain quite a lot of code examples. Perhaps, you need to widen your literature search. Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


Needless to say, this is not legal advice about your specific situation, and if you're really concerned about this, you should consult a lawyer.

However, here are the general rules. (Law professor here.)

  1. Copyright protects expression, not content. So if I read a textbook in order to learn something, and then summarize it in my own words to share that knowledge with the world, I own the copyright to the summary, the textbook author does not.

  2. Not all text is copyrightable. In particular, text that just represents information that can only be expressed one way isn't copyrightable. The classic example of this is a telephone book (see Feist v. Rural Telephone Services). But there are academic examples that would fall in the same category. Off the top of my head, an obvious example would something like the information in a table of mathematical results (although if the table is in a novel structure, the information as laid out in that structure might be copyrightable).

  3. Not all information that is copyrightable is in copyright. For example, the formulas in a math textbook for a subject that's been around for a while may not be in copyright because whoever first wrote them in that form did so a very long time ago, and copyright is time-limited.

  4. Finally, there's fair use. That's a super-complicated subject, but broadly speaking, noncommercial uses of small amounts of copyrighted work tend to be ok for purposes like teaching and critique. But for that, it's best to do lots more reading and tread carefully. More information.

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    I just want to remark that this answer only applies to the US (which is not mentioned anywhere on this page). In the EU for example, point 2 does not apply in this generality (Directive 96/9/EC) and fair use is usually much more restricted.
    – neo
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 17:42
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    Excellent answer! The one point I would add is that if the OPs notes quote extensively from the original textbook, he may be in violation of copyright. That would depend whether his quotes were considered fair use. In the U.S. the law specifically says that there is broader tolerance when material is copied for educational, non-commercial purposes, as seems to be the case here. But he certainly cannot, to take an absurd extreme, post the entire contents of somebody else's book on his site, add a few notes, and claim it as original.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:54

If your notes are entirely your own writing, you're probably fine. I.e. if you summarize, paraphrase, and the like, then you shouldn't have much to worry about. The fact that your notes might substitute for book itself is just the facts of life in the marketplace of intellectual ideas.

All that being said, if you copy literally from the book, you might find yourself having to deal with legal threats, DMCA takedown requests, or an actual lawsuit. None of us can (or should) tell you how that might go. You should consult an attorney before you post anything if you intend to copy liberally from the original sources. You may have a number of defenses if legal process should commence, but that doesn't help you save on attorney's fees and other costs. So be careful that all your words are your own.

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    FWIW, if you or your host does receive a DMCA takedown notice then there is an option available to avoid attorney's fees: take the material down. Of course if the notice is over-broad or just plain incorrect then you aren't going to find out without legal advice, so you leave yourself open to taking down more than you need to. And the "roll over and play dead" approach doesn't apply to all conceivable legal threats, since someone might ask you for more than you can (reasonably) give them. Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:12
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    @SteveJessop, unfortunately, the DMCA only gives "safe harbor" to the host if they take it down. Even if you personally take the content you've posted down in response to a DMCA notice, you've still potentially violated copyright, and you can still be sued.
    – Olathe
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 0:49
  • @Olathe: sure, if you don't have safe harbor then you can be sued. You'd need an attorney to deal with that if it happened, I just meant that you don't strictly need an attorney to deal with a DMCA takedown if that's all you're facing. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 9:39

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