I have a website where people can discuss books of various topics, mostly technical and practical stuff. Lately I have noticed that some members are posting very, very detailed summaries/reviews of books. They are basically summarizing the whole book in so much detail that there's no point of buying the book anymore. I know summaries and reviews are of course not infringing content but should I be worried when it goes to this level?

I think proper question is that is there any law that prohibits rewriting and distributing core ideas from copyrighted material?

  • 4
    This is one of those questions where it would be best to consult a lawyer. – GreenMatt Feb 3 '12 at 13:46

So long at it is a summary/review, and it doesn't plagiarise the book directly i.e. include large sections of it simply cut and pasted text, then it should come under fair use.

The key things are the amount of copy used, credit and the context. If it's presented as a review or summary and a small amount of the book i.e. a sentence or two is used word for word to make a point and the wording is attributed to the book's author, then you should be fine.

If large tracts of the book are copied for no real reason other than laziness on the part of the review author then you may be in trouble. Likewise if the review author uses sections of the book and presents them as his or own work, or doesn't credit the book's author.

This does vary somewhat by country and you should look at the laws of your own nation in addition to the laws of the nation your web server is hosted in as both may apply.

I should add that I'm not a lawyer, and this is therefore not a legal opinion!

  • And by plagiarizing you mean word to word copying? I mean if the material conveys complex idea or a concept, is it infringing to write that idea down with your own words? If that counts as infringing, majority of the books around would be infringing :) – j0nes Feb 1 '12 at 12:47
  • So long as its in the authors own words, or it's quoting a sentence or two to make a point, it's fair use. If it's cutting and pasting huge sections then you'd be in trouble. – toomanyairmiles Feb 1 '12 at 13:11
  • @j0nes I expanded the answer a bit, take a look at the wiki on fair use, it should give you some more information. – toomanyairmiles Feb 1 '12 at 14:10

EFF Fair Use FAQ will be helpful http://w2.eff.org/IP/eff_fair_use_faq.php

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