I am writing some essays for some MBA courses and I will start writing my master thesis soon. I always prefer to source ideas out of books and journals, rather than online resources. Google Books is a miracle in the sense that I can find genuine free book resources and it allows me to verify any secondary and tertiary information I have.

However, I've been reading about this fair use rule recently and I am unable to answer this question now: if I want to paraphrase a specific idea (for example, the definition of "value" in marketing as stated in book x by author y), can I still go on and paraphrase it and include all the required citation? Is this still considered fair use? (I am asking this because I read that the fair use should be "trans-formative", yes sometimes I am commenting and analyzing others ideas but most of the times I am paraphrasing others ideas just for the sake of adding relevant information and literature review (especially in essays))

  • There are too many unknown factors here. The first is which jurisdiction you are in - copyright law varies from country to country. But also the field you work in, and the nature of the "paraphrase", can also be relevant. You should follow the standards of other papers in your own field - you do read other papers in your field, right? - and ask your advisor for more specific guidance. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 0:18
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    I don't see what "Google Books" has to do with the question. Surely your questions is really just about any textual work (journal articles, books, and so on), regardless of how you obtain them. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


Fair use (in the US) has nothing to do with being "transformative." Here's a quote from section 107 of the US Copyright law (highlights are mine):

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

I'm am not a lawyer, but as long as you are paraphrasing sections and including the correct citations, you should be good.

EDIT: As Oswald Veblen points out below, there is more to copyright here than what a casual reading of the law would lead one to believe. Please see his comment below for more information.

  • Thank for your response, it seems like I am overthinking the situation. Allow me to further add another quicker question, if a book (on Google Books or actual hard material) explicitly states that no further reproduction of whatsoever to be used without a permission, does that mean that I cannot paraphrase or quote from it under fair use?
    – R. AS.
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 20:25
  • That's a good question! I'm not sure of the answer. I think it would be allowed legally, but the ethical issue is somewhat gray. You might want to ask this in a separate question with more details.
    – Ric
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 20:29
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    "Transformative use" is indeed related to U.S. copyright law, because the current legal standard for fair use, established by the Supreme Court to interpret the law, involves a "four part test", the first part of which asks if the use is transformative. See for example the Stanford site on copyright fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/four-factors , or the text of the relevant Supreme Court decision at law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-1292.ZO.html . However, ordinary academic use in the U.S. is almost always well within the legal boundaries. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 0:16

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