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socrateaser
socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
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Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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Back in 2007, I took an online course through Columbia University.

Resolved Question:

Back in 2007, I took an online course through Columbia University. They stopped offering the course in 2008. All of the reference to other books are there, as is the lecturer's materials. My question is this: If I took this course, and recreated it using the same ideas and using the same references, could I offer it as an e-book? The material would be essentially the same and the references to other books would be included but could I do this comfortably?
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Expert:  socrateaser replied 11 months ago.
Hello,

Ideas are not protectable under the U.S. Copyright Act. Only the fixed expression of an idea can be protected. Consequently, if you were to create publication that provides similar ideas to the original course, and uses similar references, then that would be entirely legal.

However, if for example, you take the class outline, table of contents, references, and text from the original lecturer's materials, then that is copyright infringement, because you are merely repeating what someone else has already done, without any creativity of your own.

When you say, "Can I do this comfortably," if you mean "can I do this without risking a copyright infringement lawsuit," then regrettably my answer must be, "no." You are risking copyright infringement unless you write your own version of the course.

Of course, you may never get caught. Neither the professor, nor the school may spend any resources searching for infringement of their class syllabus materials. But, if you get caught, there is a risk, and it could be very costly.

Please let me know if my answer is helpful, or if I can provide further clarification or assistance.

And, thanks for using justanswer.com!
Customer: replied 11 months ago.

Does it make any difference that I wasn't planning to charge for this e-book? I wanted to offer it as a premium to people who like my facebook page or as a thank you for coming to my website. It was never my intention to advertise this widely or to push it except as a premium for liking my page. What do you think in that situation?

Expert:  socrateaser replied 11 months ago.
Does it make any difference that I wasn't planning to charge for this e-book? I wanted to offer it as a premium to people who like my facebook page or as a thank you for coming to my website. It was never my intention to advertise this widely or to push it except as a premium for liking my page. What do you think in that situation?

A: The "fair use doctrine" (17 U.S.C. 107) provides that not charging for a creative work may be a factor in whether or not copyright infringement has occurred. However, the question is whether or not the author of the work continues to use the materials to teach the class elsewhere (or, uses the materials for any other for-profit purpose).

Also, fair use cannot be determined in advance. Only a court can decide whether or not a use is "fair" sufficient to protect the user from copyright infringement. The better path is always to try to obtain a license from the author (or, the copyright owner).

So, the answer here is, "yes," but with a lot of qualifiers.

Hope this helps.
socrateaser, Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 34066
Experience: Retired (mostly)
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Customer: replied 11 months ago.

It does, actually. I had asked perhaps in 2009 about this course and whether i could gain access to it. They pretty much had forgotten all about it. I doubt he is using the material in his classes. Even if he is, the references cited in the course are all in the public domain. Each was written in the 19th century. all of the pictures are freely available and can be changed, also. Thanks for your help.

Expert:  socrateaser replied 11 months ago.
Any work created before 1923 is public domain, and is freely available to all. So, it's only the text of the materials that would put you at any risk.

Best wishes.

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