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.