We have received well over 600 questions tagged . This is now effectively – and by far – our most common tag. And many copyright questions, even when not duplicates, are amenable to the same answers.

We should try to find and catalog its "canonical answers." I've made a custom of doing that in the Tag Info – for example, see the info. But does not yet have any canonical answers.

I realize the tag info is rarely checked but, at the very least, when a new question is asked that we can't close as a duplicate, it is much easier to post a comment suggesting the asker check the canonical answers in the associated tags (than to hunt through hundreds questions for the exact answers I know I've seen).

Update for clarification: Yes, there is plenty of nuance in copyright law. But there are some questions that are appearing over and over. For example, variants of "Is it legal to copy something protected by copyright as long as I don't sell it, or if I just do it for my own amusement?" have appeared often enough that existing answers are more than adequate, and I know (but can't easily find) at least one is really good and worth highlighting in the tag info.

  • 1
    I've contemplated making canonical copyright Q&As but the biggest thing that I think I have difficulty with is the fact that the doctrines are incredibly complex (heck, we still have people arguing over Fair Use around here), but also what to write about and for where. Looking at the recent questions with the tag, there's a large variety -> open source software questions, to "is this legal" questions, to others, and it doesn't seem like there's a large common ground (though that's also just from looking at the first couple of pages). I'd be more than willing to write one, I just need ideas :)
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 23:56
  • 1
    Canonical answers would need to include the jurisdiction. UK copyright law is different from US law, for example, particularly in the concept of "fair use". Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 10:48

2 Answers 2


I've been thinking that we should start up with questions that will, without a doubt, apply internationally, by finding common themes in the Berne Convention.

I was thinking of two questions as a way to get started:

  • What is the Berne Convention, and how does it influence copyright internationally? Basically, looking into the fact that hey copyright is automatic, and lasts a long time, and that no matter where you are, it's fundamentally the same.

  • How do I know something is under copyright, and when can I use it? Somewhat similar to the first question. Basically, that copyright lasts, and there are rights reserved for the author. Introductory to licenses and fair use. The second part of the question may be a little bit iffy, but it's an idea.

I'd like to with writing Q&As for these, but I'll only really have the time to do it over the weekend. Of course, they are up for grabs, so if you'd like to do it, you can :)

  • And fear not to start something and improve it later. Multiple answers are allowed, or it can be marked Community Wiki. In fact, feel free to place these in the tag info as "Canonical Questions."
    – feetwet Mod
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 22:10
  • Good examples. Is there a way to export titles of questions tagged "copyright" (or even, titles and actual question)?
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 17:56
  • What do you mean titles? You mean find a list of all question titles where the question has the tag? If that's what you meant, I've got a query here with a list of all questions: data.stackexchange.com/law/query/556459/…
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 21:10
  • Exactly that. For future use you could say how you did it, assuming that it's doable by mortals.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 16:54
  • Wait, I think it's self-evident from this example.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 16:55

On reflection, I think we need a set of canonical questions on aspects of copyright (with answers), otherwise we run the risk of sanctioning a massively too-broad question. We have Dawn's canonical Q&A on fair use in the US. Perhaps one could look for recurring themes and especially words. For example we get lots of questions asking if it's okay to make derivative works without permission, only most people don't know that they're called "derivative works", so how would they know that this question has been answered a zillion times? A project would be to identify topic areas. Let's see...

Thanks to Zizouz212's link to the copyright titles, I've come up with a rough list of topics, which represent recurring and answerable questions (some may only be answerable in theory). An obvious fact is that most questions are computer-related. These are somewhat functionally sorted.

What is copyright, and what is copyrighted

  1. Consequences of infringing copyright
  2. What is protected
  3. Are words protected (e.g., can I use the word 'Dothraki')
  4. Are facts protected
  5. Derivative works (subtitles, translations) – when do they infringe; who owns copyright
  6. Private use (isn't it OK to infringe for my personal, or non-profit use?)
  7. Fair use
  8. Exact copying versus modifying {copying is copying: this is basically an evidence issue for music, where similarity could be accidental and not proof of copying}
  9. When is copyright in my work owned by someone else? Work for hire, off-clock work, academia, collaborations
  10. Compulsory licensing (e.g., how do I get permission to sing Bohemian Rhapsody)
  11. Difference from trademark law (e.g.: it's not copyright that protects the term "Microsoft")
  12. Difference from trade secrets

If it’s out there

  1. If I find it on the internet it's OK to use, right?
  2. Including/copying images, logos (if it's small enough maybe it's not protected, right?)
  3. Caching and other statutory provisions for copying
  4. Does linking to copyrighted content infringe
  5. Liability of third-parties (e.g., hosts, sites, forums)
  6. DMCA takedown process and liability

Software and licensed content

  1. Licensing in general; difference between licensing and owning
  2. Clickwrap and EULA (especially: what is "agreement")
  3. Applicability of first sale doctrine
  4. CC and GPL license terms
  5. Are software algorithms protected (esp. translation of source code to other languages)

(A huge number of these questions are of the form: "I don't want to bother trying to these understand license terms, please tell me whether I can do X.")

Anyhow, those are some ideas. Then there's the matter of writing...I will pause for comments (and other endeavors).

  • Wait! Did Dawn leave? Dawn always knew just about everything too... :(
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:50
  • Aside, some of the most common themes are "Is this a derivative work?" and "Is this copyrighted?" and so on. I'd love to do write-ups on those :)
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:51
  • Yeah, she seems to have left, which is a crying shame. I suggest answering with an area and an optional intent to write.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 21:22
  • On it right now!
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 21:49
  • An area this complex could certainly merit a "meta" question and answer(s), perhaps even getting into the official site FAQ. E.g., how about this? Should I make it Community Wiki?
    – feetwet Mod
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 22:10
  • Yes, a single assembly point can link to the specific question-types, such as "fair use", "software license", "isn't anything on the interwebs public domain?".
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 17:59
  • Very nice! Hope you don't mind that I reordered and elaborated on your first draft. We could use this as the framework for our Meta/FAQ and just work on linking to good answers for each list item.
    – feetwet Mod
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 1:19
  • Edit away, anybody.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 1:24
  • I am now starting on a Q&A that provides a general overview of copyright. The idea is to mention general ideas, which can later be fleshed out with a link to details. So for instance it would use the term "work for hire" but that would eventually link to a specific Q&A on works for hire.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:51

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