Answers To Textbook Questions: Copyright Violation?

from the oh-come-on... dept

Just a few weeks ago, in writing about the pointlessness of “derivative rights” in copyright law, I questioned the “example” of an answer key for a textbook, noting that there was no reason to have it covered by copyright:

But, to me, this seems ridiculous on a basic common sense reading. I can’t fathom how anyone can (at least honestly) claim that copyright really has an idea/expression dichotomy and then say that Section 106(2) makes any sense at all. What’s wrong if someone else wants to produce an answer guide to an original textbook? Why would it ever make policy sense to deny such a right? In most cases, you would assume that the original creator of the textbook would have a better understanding of the topics and the answers, so an “unauthorized” answer key is unlikely to be as valuable. But why should it be prevented? On top of that, if the answer key is just answering questions, then how could it be infringement? Those answers are accurate “facts” responding to questions. If an answer key is infringing, then wouldn’t that make student answers infringing as well?

Apparently, though, others don’t agree — and they’re the folks who make the rules. Michael Scott points us to the news that a court has ruled that answers to a textbook questions are a derivative work, and someone who was selling such answers online was infringing on the copyright of the textbook publisher. This still makes no sense to me. First, there’s no “copying.” Second, isn’t answering a question a “factual” statement? How can answering a question be copyright infringement? From a policy and common sense perspective it makes no sense. But, that’s what you get with the way copyright law is these days. It’s not about the incentive to create, but about stifling competition and free speech. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see the next student sued for copyright infringement for answering his homework questions.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Answers To Textbook Questions: Copyright Violation?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
50 Comments
Derek Reed (profile) says:

So Confused

It has no purpose on its own as it merely lays out a schedule with repeated references to the Manual … The solutions, for their part, have no independent viability

The judgement seems to focus on the fact that the answers don’t mean much without the questions, but why is that so important? My comment here doesn’t mean much without Mike’s post up above, does that mean my comment a derivative work that violates Techdirt’s copyright?

I’m glad I’m not a lawyer, but I’d sure like one to explain this.

anymouse (profile) says:

Student Rebellion time

So this means that the students can now sue their schools for ‘inducing copyright infringement’ when the professors ask them to answer the questions in the textbook, right?

What if some of the questions are so basic to the subject matter, that they can be found in any of several textbooks? What is the atomic structure of water? How do you increase revenue in a basic dual entry accounting system? We need a team of scholars to scour textbooks for similar questions and then sue them all for ‘derivative copyright infringement’ and see how they like it.

Obviously the tin-foil just isn’t enough today….

Anonymous Coward says:

Have you ever considered that there might already be a thing called “teachers edition” that has all the answers?

Perhaps also it is because without the original textbook, the answerbook is a meaningless collection of “answers without questions”, thus pretty clearly making it a derivative work.

With A, no B. Sort of simple, unless you are desperately trying to find another way to bash copyright laws.

jerome (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The fact that there was already a book with answers does not change copyright status of my book with different answers to the same questions. It might just give hints why they are angry if you too publish a book–they believe you break their business model.

1) I still have the right to sell a “meaningless collection of answer without questions”. (Lots of poetry are actually forms of it)
2) The answer book is increasing the business of the question book! Why do they complain?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

1) Without the questions, why bother? Obviously the answer book would reference the question book. So sorry, there is no sort of wiggling out. Without A, no B.

2) Perhaps maybe because they are already in the business of selling answer books? Perhaps because they don’t want answer books out there to make it easier for students to cheat in school?

You can write a book with all the truth you want. When you make it entirely in reference to the content of another book, that is a derivative work.

How hard is that to understand?

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: At which point is it an infirnging derivative work?

You can write a book with all the truth you want. When you make it entirely in reference to the content of another book, that is a derivative work.

Well then at what point does it become an infringement? When I write answers to the book questions for my assignment? When I photocopy my answers and hand them out to classmates? When I type up my answers and print up multiple copies for my classmates? When I charge classmates for those copies? When I have my answers nicely bound at the campus print shop and give or sell them to classmates? When I take that Print shop copy and sell it online on ebay? When I take a digital copy and give it away online using bittorrent? When enough people notice my answer key and a publisher decides to publish my answer key?

If you are saying that an answer key is an infringing derivative work, then at what point does it become one?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 At which point is it an infirnging derivative work?

Heres an example: Text book has 20 questions. The answer book exactly answers those 20 questions, in the exact order, and says “these are the answers to the question is “text book”.

Oh, to answer your other question, when you widely distribute it, you would be violating copyright. Selling it would make it ever so much more obvious. Not selling it makes it non-commercial, but still pretty much actionable.

You can write answers for your assignment (or for anything else personal for that matter) without have any concerns about copyright. That isn’t an issue. You know it, you are just being a little extreme to try to make a point that is rapidly slipping out of your grasp.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 At which point is it an infirnging derivative work?

The answer is YES. Haha. I’m violating copyright. Haha. It’s like jaywalking. The answer is YES. Haha. No one can stop me!

It’s YES! I win! Haha. The truth cannot be derivative.

Are you braindead?

Don’t bother, you already know the answer to that one.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 At which point is it an infirnging derivative work?

You can write answers for your assignment (or for anything else personal for that matter) without have any concerns about copyright. That isn’t an issue.

No! Here we see the harmful consequences of eliding copyright, patent and trademark law together. Under copyright law it is tha act of copying (or creating a derivative work) that constitutes infringement. Commercial activity aggravates the violation – but it doesn’t create it . The judge’s comments about the “independent value” of the work are also a red herring. Copyright law doesn’t care about how good or bad, valuable or worthless the derivative work is – it just cares about the extent to which it copies or makes use of the original.

If selling answer guides is infringement then answering the questions is infringement end of story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You can write a book with all the truth you want.

Apparently not. Read the article.

When you make it entirely in reference to the content of another book, that is a derivative work.

So, one person writes a question. Another writes an answer. (There is not minimum length requirement for copyright) Derivative work, huh? You’re a copyright shill, aren’t you?

How hard is that to understand?

Not hard at all: copyright is nuts.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> 1) Without the questions, why bother?

That’s my business, not yours or anyone else’s. If I want to waste me time on frivolusly publishing meaningless things, then that’s my right.

There’s no requirement in the law that everything I publish must have “meaning”.

> Perhaps maybe because they are already in the
> business of selling answer books?

So? Now they have competition. It’s called capitalism. Something we used to embrace in this country.

> Perhaps because they don’t want answer books
> out there to make it easier for students to
> cheat in school?

Perhaps that is indeed what they want. However, such concerns are irrelevant to copyright law. Using copyright to further the desire of a book company to keep kids from cheating isn’t legally justified anywhere in the U.S. Code.

Just because a company wants something doesn’t mean they have the legal right to enforce their desires on the rest of us using copyright (or anything else, for that matter). Unless the law specifically provides for it (and copyright does not provide for prevention of cheating by school students), the desires of the company are moot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wow, and I thought Mike was the master of reaching.

Movies? Reviews are news, opinion, whatever. They are not directly derivative, just discussing the subject. It’s the same as posting a comment on this blog.

News? Crap happens, people report crap happens. If crap stopped happening, there would be no news. But since the crap isn’t copyright, no big deal. No deriviative issues here.

Notes? Not copyright – so derivative issues there either.

Stupidity? I think you have the market cornered, but that is only my non-derivative opinion of your points.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Movies? Reviews are news, opinion, whatever. They are not directly derivative, just discussing the subject. It’s the same as posting a comment on this blog.”

Without A, no B. How hard is that to understand?

“News? Crap happens, people report crap happens. If crap stopped happening, there would be no news. But since the crap isn’t copyright, no big deal. No deriviative issues here.”

Without A, no B. How hard is that to understand?

“Notes? Not copyright – so derivative issues there either.”

Without A, no B. How hard is that to understand?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Wow, and I thought Mike was the master of reaching.

Nay, he just has a habit of disagreeing with the copyright industry. The real masters of “reach” are the copyright supporters. In fact, ruling is an example of the “reaching” they’ll do if given half a chance.

Movies? Reviews are news, opinion, whatever. They are not directly derivative, just discussing the subject.

The court’s reasoning was that the answers were of little value without the questions and that that made them derivative works.

Now a movie review is obviously of little value without the original movie and so, using the court’s reasoning, it is a derivative work of the original movie.

It’s the same as posting a comment on this blog.

As long as you’re not replying to someone else’s post. Then it becomes copyright infringement using the court’s reasoning.

So what are you going do now that I replied to you, sue me? Answer that and *I* might *sue* you.

Derek Reed (profile) says:

The real problem

This seems strikingly similar to the Texas Instruments issues posted on here not that long ago.

  1. Company realizes *GASP*, students can cheat using x
  2. Use IP law to squash x, problem solved
  3. Doesn’t really matter because students can still cheat because your test was poorly designed to allow cheating in the first place

This and the TI case were about maintaining the value of these existing products by pretending that students can’t cheat. Guess what? They can, they do – if you want to stop “cheating”, build a better “test”. HINT: It’s not multiple choice.

andrew johnson (profile) says:

What Colour are your bits?

Oddly enough, I think I might actually actually agree with this ruling. This seems to be a perfectly logical extension of the basic concept of a derivative work. However, this does set a somewhat odd precedent by placing the legal status of answering textbook questions in limbo: can I still do my homework? Normally using a product for its intended purpose would clearly be fair-use, but with fair-use pretty well dead, it would certainly make for an interesting case.

Phil says:

Incentive to create??... Nah. What I need is Control!!

“…the way copyright law is these days. It’s not about the incentive to create, but about stifling competition and free speech.”

EXACTLY right.

A few days ago, somebody was complaining that this blog was drifting away from the topic of IP too often when the issue of monopoly came up. That sort of comment represents a complete failure to understand what abusive IP is ALL about. Abuse of IP law exists precisely because certain people want the government to help them control how their product is used and stifle competition.
Heavy-handed IP is a monopolist’s dream.

Jason says:

Re: Unauthorized Guides

As far as I can tell, yes, video game guides ARE covered by the precedent set by this ruling. They pretty plainly fall directly under the reasoning used.

I sort of understand the reason to have derivative works be covered, but it seems like something like trademark law would make more sense than copyright. If I write a “Harry Potter” book, but it is completely original other than the setting, it seems much more closely related to trademark infringement than copyright infringement… you don’t want someone else trading on the value you have built up, but it doesn’t really seem like it falls under the same category as the primary idea of copyright.

Derek Reed (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unauthorized Guides

There’s a big difference between someone else “trading on the value you have built up” and doing harm to your business by falsely representing themselves as you. One actually causes you harm, the other might actually help you.

Oh noes, someone else also made a dollar using my idea, sue the crap out of ’em.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t the point more to prevent the publication of a solutions manual at all (or to make it only available to the teachers)? I’ve never heard of two different solutions manuals for the same book–unless the first one is terrible, why bother?

Given the rampant cheating on some campuses, it seems like preventing students from acquiring a solutions manual could be desirable (since unless there are bizarre errors in the solutions manual it might be very hard to catch cheaters with one).

Of course, maybe copyright law isn’t the best way to achieve this result, but how else?

(I don’t think the TI calculator thing is a very good analogy, since by the time the signing keys were factored, people had already found plenty of other ways to fake a calculator erase convincingly, meaning that most classes had already started banning calculators entirely on exams or just making them open book.)

allison wheat says:

copyright

Ok, I have a question. If I were to take several different textbooks, compile all of the information and not use one specifically and type it up, bound it, and give it to my students as a “textbook” for my class, but gave all of these sources credit. How many laws would I be violating? Is there any way I could do this to make it legal? I want to do this for my classes, because there is no one single text that covers everything I want to cover. Currently my students are using 4 different textbooks and to 16 year olds this is mind boggling.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...