Lately I've been reading a lot of the influential papers in my field (computer science, but specifically, machine learning). What's about to happen if I decide to publish my detailed notes (along with my commentary/views about the author's arguments) on my personal tech blog? More concretely, would this practice be looked down on by the authors and other academics? At what point could I get into legal trouble for directly quoting too much from a given article? My intent is to summarize others' research, and not call it my own.

  • 8
    I think most authors would appreciate the attention. :)
    – Thomas
    Aug 26, 2017 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


How deep are your notes?

I can't give legal advice, of course, and application of "fair use" varies from country to country. In the United States, I can't imagine you ever getting into legal trouble for summarizing your notes at the level of roughly an abstract (i.e. one paragraph), perhaps a few summary paragraphs. Keep in mind that the actual abstracts are virtually always freely available. So the value that the publisher must protect is the detail in the actual paper, not the high level findings, etc.

If you're providing your own point-by-point commentary then my understanding is, that increases your flexibility under US fair use doctrine. Vigorous discussion and debate is part of why we publish, and citing someone verbatim (within reason) to reply to their points is generally smiled upon. So I'm pretty sure there's no legal problem with directly quoting a few sentences to respond to a point, as long as the total of all citations isn't more than say 10% of the paper.

Moving from legality to ethics, I see no problem unless you're quoting so much that most people won't bother to read the original. You're attributing sources so what you're doing is honest.

Practically, in US academia blogs are usually pretty worthless for hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions. I would consider them either a healthy hobby or an unhealthy time sink.

  • 6
    I don't think there would be any need to restrict yourself to just a paragraph actually. I mean, in science we often write articles that completely explain the whole point of another article, in order to then build a new result upon it. Quoting directly at great length could be potentially problematic, but if you're explaining it in your own words I think there is no danger of explaining "too much", as long as you reference the source.
    – N. Virgo
    Aug 27, 2017 at 1:25
  • @Nathanielactually restricting yourself to just a paragraph may make a text more approachable, like yours, right here.
    – nilon
    May 27, 2020 at 22:43
  • @Nathaniel Sorry for an extremely slow reply -- agreed 100%. I wanted to be very conservative and set a boundary case. I'd imagine both legally and ethically you can be OK with quite a bit more as long as you're only quoting for discussion. (DISCLAIMER: To repeat, I am not giving legal advice.)
    – Philip
    May 28, 2020 at 2:26

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