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Reddit Response About Copyright and Plagiarism

I responded to the Reddit post Concerns about plagiarism in an eBook I'd like to publish [MN]:

I'm going to try to keep this short and sweet...

I took extremely extensive notes (~70 pages) during an occupational licensure video course by a major education company.

I'd like to edit those notes down into a little eBook but am concerned about plagiarism and whatever legal repercussions that could bring.

I tried to put as much as reasonably possible into my own words, but some short definitions or explanations were just best kept as they were stated or presented in the video course.

I've put various sections of my notes through free plagiarism checkers and have scored >96% unique each time and haven't seen any links back to the major company that made the video course.

So... How concerned should I be about plagiarism?

If I give the eBook away for free on my business's website would that eliminate ALL risks from any potential plagiarism?

(I'd rather sell the eBook but am willing to go the free route if tiny plagiarisms could turn into a huge PITA)

Using exact phrases from the course is a copyright violation unless you follow the rules of “fair use”. A positive factor for fair use is creating a transformative work (which is unclear from your description). If your work could substitute for the original work, that’s a negative factor. Using it commercially (selling it or using it to promote a business) is another negative factor. Also, if you want to claim it’s fair use, you should put each exact phrase inside quotation marks and cite the source. You can find more information at https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/can-i-sell-book-summary-like-cliff-notes-or-monarc-312496.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

If you do commentary, criticism or write your own original thoughts, that would help make this legal. If you just copy their work as a whole, that may be a copyright violation even if you reword most of it. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphrasing_of_copyrighted_material

Reworded material can be plagiarism. If you don’t want to be a plagiarist, then your book should inform your readers that it’s a summary of the course and say what course it is from what company. If you present it as your own ideas, not as a derivative work, then it’s clearly plagiarism. Plagiarism is unethical not illegal.

Both fair use and plagiarism have legal risks. The lawyers at this large company may send you a cease and desist letter or file a lawsuit. They can do that even if you didn’t break a law. If you’re in the right legally, proving that in court would still be expensive and risky. Making your book free wouldn’t remove your risk; takedown demands are pretty common even for free stuff which is clearly legal.

Elliot Temple on July 6, 2024


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