Are exercises in language books copyrighted?

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  • Good afternoon,

    I am working on a language app to learn languages, and I was thinking to include sentences and dialogues for the users to practice their languages.

    My question is: can I re-use, and to what extend, similar exercises used in other textbooks?
    Does that fall under the fair use for educational purpose?

    And more in particular, I am wondering about the following 3 cases:

    1) Are vocabulary lists for specific lessons copyrighted?
    I know a single word (e.g. in Latin) + translation in English is not copyrighted, but what about whole series of words as vocabulary list?
    E.g.: can I add to the "lesson 1" of my app the vocabulary list at the end of chapter one of a hypothetical book "learn Latin in 20 lessons"?

    2) What about dialogues, especially very basic ones, like "What is your name? My name is Paul. Where are you from? I am from Canada"? are they copyrighted? or it depends, and how can I determine the threshold?

    3) The app will focus mainly on ancient, dead languages, like Latin. I guess that sentences taken from ancient texts can be used freely as exercises. But what about basic sentences created by the author of a teaching book to illustrate specific examples? Or sentences from the initial exercises, which often are made up to illustrate specific grammatical concepts?
    Are those sentences copyrighted, or again could I use the sentences of the exercise at the end of chapter one of the same hypothetical book "learn Latin in 20 lessons" ?

  • I can give you my opinion - this is defintely not a definitive answer.

    1. a list of words is not copyrighted

    2. Basic dialogues like "what is your name?" are not protected by copyright

    3. Basic sentences written by another author may or may not be protected. Original expression is protected by copyright.  So there's a point when a sentence may be deemed expressive enough to qualify.  I would try to create my own sentences just to be sure or contact the author and have a chat.  Maybe you can have a joint authorship of some kind.

    Hope this is somewhat helpful.

    Carrie Russell


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