Custom solutions to questions in text books.

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  • The other day I was doing my physics home work and was frustrated that I could not get my answer to come out to what as in the back of the book. I looked on ebay to see if I could find a cheep solutions manual but could not find one. I then had the idea that would'nt it be nice if there was a web site that you could go to and see how other people solved the same questions in a specific textbook. I was wondering if it would be ilegal for me to create a online-community were people could search for the textbook they are using and then look up the question by chapter and question number and see solutions to that queston that were posted by other members.

    I have already read about a somewhat simmalir case here:

    Things to keep in mind:

    1) I would not charge money to view solutions but I would have ads to help with the cost of the server and equpment.

    2) What is the diffrence between a hired tutor who looks at a students textbook and solves the question and shows the solution to the student and having one student "tutor" another student over the internet by showing how they sovled the problem?
  • vanattab,

    The answers provided in the earlier discussion that you mentioned (the thread started by pencho) apply here as well. If the textbook that you or the members of your proposed online community provide solutions for is a copyrighted work, and if your web site substantially reproduces the selection, arrangement, organization, etc. of that work, then you are likely creating an unauthorized derivative work.

    If I remember correctly, pencho was considering publishing a book, while you are proposing an online resource. But I don't think that changes the basic response to your question. I don't think the fact that you're not charging money to view solutions really makes the use fair either. After all, the Google Book Search project as it has been described wouldn't charge for access either; yet the objections that book publishers have to the project are based on the fact that Google would generate ad revenue, which the publishers would not be getting a share of. Google's ad revenue would be profit-making and (one assumes) would exceed their operating costs, so perhaps there's a crucial difference from what you're proposing with your site, but claiming that your site is non-profit will not in and of itself serve as a defense to infringement.

    As to your second question, the difference is that the hired tutor explaining solutions to a student is a perfectly allowable, private use of the textbook. But posting an unauthorized derivative work of a copyrighted textbook online could violate the copyright owner's exclusive rights to reproduce and publicly distribute/display their work--again, to the extent that your derivative work substantially reproduced the copyrighted elements (selection, arrangement, etc. of material) of the original textbook.
  • I certainly agree with RDavis that what is being proposed would be an unauthorized deriative work. But why not, for a moment, consider a fair use analysis? Perhaps this is a justifiable unauthorized deriative work.

    Regarding the first factor, the web site suggested would be educational, non-profit and, arguably, transformative. Value would be added beyond the original by the creative labors of students trying to solve the set problems.

    The nature of the original work that would be copied is largely factual. Mathematical equations and problems would get pretty thin copyright protection.

    Only small amounts of the text need be used, since only so much of the problems, themselves a small part of most textbooks, as is necessary to identify the problem and work out an answer, would have to be reproduced.

    Finally, there would be little effect on the market for the original. As with most transformative works, this web site could not substitute for the textbook and, in thic case, might even require a sale of the textbook in order to be useful.

  • Your fair use analysis seems pretty sound to me, though I have slight reservations on the fourth factor.

    I agree that there would be little market effect on the original textbooks--and, as you point out, the site might even generate additional sales of the textbooks themselves. But wouldn't there be an adverse effect on the potential market for a similar derivative work produced by the textbook publisher? That is, doesn't the textbook publisher have the exclusive right to exploit the market for a solutions manual or similar resource, produced as a derivative work to their original copyrighted textbook? Or am I reaching too far in my consideration of potential market effect?
  • I think it is possible to carry the "potential licensing market" argument too far. In a very recent fair use case involving Grateful Dead posters reproduced in a book, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this kind of argument, pointing out that, if it were accepted, the fourth factor would always count against fair use. That seems correct to me, but I believe that courts have split over how far a potential licensing market should impact the fourth factor. To my mind, there should at least be evidence of an extant market and reasonable intent on the part of the plaintiff to enter it.
  • Thank you for your input. I am thinking of making a site similar to what I discribed above. My ideal would be in a wiki like format where any one could post solutions to questions in any text book. And people could vote on which solution was helpful and which were not. I just had a few more questions.
    1. If I did not list the solutions to questions in the order they appeared in the book but instead had people search for "chapter 5 question 44"" would that strengthen my defence.
    2. Is there anyother ideas for ways of structuring the site that would help a fair use stance.
    3. Do you think the publishers would even care enough to deal with me. (I know this is a un-fair and silly question but any ideas)
    4. This is entirely off topic but do you guys have any opinons about wether such a site would even be a worthwhile idea. It would need lots of deticated people to make it useful. Do you think other people would take the time to scan in/ post there solutions? (sorry another un-fair question)
  • I'll try to respond to your follow-up questions (to the extent I'm able) but I want to mention that your Internet service provider could possibly yank all or portions of your proposed site from their server if any of the textbook publishers objected and filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint with them. I'm not trying to discourage you, but before you put the time & effort into creating this site you should know that the DMCA has had this chilling effect and that the risk exists. Basically, the DMCA provides a safe harbor from infringement liability if ISPs respond promptly to any complaints they receive from copyright owners. The ISP is required to allow you to file a counter-notice that you believe your use of the copyrighted work is noninfringing and that you therefore assume all liability; the ISP then has to repost your content on their server within 10-14 days after receiving your counter-notice, unless the copyright owner has initiated legal proceedings against you before then. But in practice the DMCA has led a lot of ISPs to "shoot first and ask questions (or not) later" upon receiving a complaint of alleged copyright infringement -- often they'll just pull the content and forward a copy of the complaint to you, without informing you of your option to file a counter-notice. Again, I don't mean to discourage you and perhaps I'm putting the cart before the horse here, but I'd rather see you go into this project aware of this risk and prepared to respond to it should the occasion arise.

    Now to your questions...

    1. If I did not list the solutions to questions in the order they appeared in the book but instead had people search for "chapter 5 question 44"" would that strengthen my defence?

    Honestly, I don't know. Perhaps. It might be even better to dispense with the textbook numbering entirely and just have the user do a browser text search/find for the equation provided in the question. I don't know if this is necessary to strengthen your fair use argument, but it seems as though it would be just as easy (for the user) as searching for "chapter 5 question 44." And then at least it would be harder for the textbook publisher to argue that your content was a derivative work keyed specifically to their copyrighted book.

    2. Is there anyother ideas for ways of structuring the site that would help a fair use stance?

    The only thing I can think of is an expansion on what I said above. Perhaps your site could just list a number of textbooks which served as the source(s) for the problems posted and discussed on your site, rather than having the solutions/discussions for problems broken down book-by-book. In any case, I would provide a complete bibiliographic citation for any textbook "consulted" for problems discussed on the site, and I would reproduce the copyright notice (e.g., c2006 Prentice-Hall, Inc.) that appears in each work cited.

    3. Do you think the publishers would even care enough to deal with me?

    No idea. Deal with you how? If you mean by granting you permission or by paying you for your efforts by advertising/sponsoring the site, then I highly doubt it.

    4. ...Do you guys have any opinons about whether such a site would even be a worthwhile idea... Do you think other people would take the time to scan in/ post there solutions?

    Again, I'm not really qualified to say, and you're correct that this is outside the scope of this site's purpose. But you never know what will and won't take off on the Web. You might try gathering a test group of friends/associates and do a 3-month trial site to see how likely people are to contribute to your site and maintain an ongoing interest in developing it as a community. I'm speaking as someone with next to no experience in development of such projects, though, so that's a suggestion that is completely uninformed by personal experience.

    Good luck...

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