Is it fair use to post homework questions and your own answers (specifically the way you found them out) on an online blog?

Asked 6 months ago - Tempe, AZ

This would be strictly educational, the numbers would be changed so that no one could cheat by simply copying the answer, but they would still be able to learn how to properly solve the problem. What issues could arise with providing such a service?

Attorney answers (6)

  1. Alan James Brinkmeier

    Contributor Level 20

    4

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . 1. Education fraud comes to mind right off the bat.

    2. Inability to monitor that "no one could cheat" is another. If that is promised and not done misrepresentation and deception allegations would be made.

  2. Bruce E. Burdick

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    4

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . That is not educational, it is anti-educational, if these are real homework questions.

    This is derivative work that violated 17 USC 106. It does not appear to be fair use, as it flagrantly violates the fourth factor under 17 USC 107, and arguably the other three factors, as well. You are taking the entire work, the nature of your work is very negative, your work is commercial.

    If you are a student, this form of cheating should get you suspended.

    Bad idea.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is... more
  3. Lonnie K McDowell

    Contributor Level 15

    Answered . When you say changing numbers, it sounds like you are talking about math homework. Mathematical formula like 2+2=4 or "solve for X" cannot be copyrighted. If you are replacing the numbers like you say, so that instead of the homework's "3xy = 24y solve for x" you blog an entry that says "4xy =36y, solve for x, here's a wiki article on solving for x" you are not infringing on a copyright, and you are not violating any educational honesty policy as long as you are not giving out the actual answers to the homework for your classmates to cheat off of. I think you are fine under these circumstances, as long as your teacher allows you to use electronic resources.
    If I have misunderstood, and you are planning on posting duplicates of worksheets / homework pages with answers or where to get answers online and simply changing the question numbers, then there is a problem. Even if the actual math is not copyrightable, the specific organization / layout can be. I cannot copyright random english words, but when I lay them out to make a specific work (like the I Have a Dream speech) that is copyright protected.

    The general advice above does not constitute an attorney-client relationship: you haven't hired me or given me... more
  4. Frank Anthony Natoli

    Pro

    Contributor Level 19

    Answered . Irrespective of whether this amounts to infringement, it may still be considered academic misconduct.

    From a copyright perspective, if you are using the material for expository purposes and commenting directly on it, it certainly sounds like there is a good fair use defense. But you need to understand that fair use is only a defense and if you ticked off the copyright owners enough they can still file a claim and force you defend your use as fair in court.

    Attorney Burdick seems to consider this as infringing and while I'm not so sure it would be, I respect his experience here, so this is definitely something you should not commit to without first getting a proper analysis done.

    I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.

    Best regards,
    Frank
    Natoli-Lapin, LLC

    DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-... more
  5. Maurice N Ross

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . I think this is a more complicated matter than my colleagues have indicated. Certainly, if someone wanted to operate a business that provided online resources that students could use to determine the answers to common homework assignments, this could be structured legally. Further, I don't see why t his is necessarily academic fraud---no could argue that Cliff's notes are fraudulent or illegal, and the same would be true for an web-site that provided tools students could use to quickly answer homework assignments. The students still forced to prepare a response to the homework assignment, and I see nothing unusual or wrong about using resources found on-line to do so. Nor would it be illegal or wrong to operate a business that provides such resources.

    The main issue here would be whether this asker is creating original tools (i.e, answers to potential homework assignments), or is violating copyright law by finding answers to similar questions on-line and merely copying them. Further, if the asker bases the answers he creates on material that he finds on line, this would probably be a derivative work in violation of copyright law. This would only be legal of the asker "did his own homework" (i.e., wrote original, non-derivative answers and created original material).

    The doctrine of fair use almost certainly would not help the asker here. If one copies educational materials available on the internet such as chapters from text books or guides to solving complicated calculus problems, that would probably badly impair the market value of the copyrighted work---which is the most important consideration in any fair use analysis. The mere fact that the purpose is educational does not mean this is fair use---text books are protected by copyright law, and a school cannot justify making copies of text books for students without paying for them on the fair use doctrine. People who write educational materials deserve to get paid for their work, just like all other authors, and copyright law protects them. Thus, while I see no inevitable academic fraud here, the only way for this Asker to proceed legally would be to create his original answers to questions---and in so doing, he cannot copy or create derivative works based on copyrighted materials that the asker finds on-line.

  6. Daniel Nathan Ballard

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . You can publish questions and answers if you're the author of both.

    If you're not the author of the questions then you can't publish them -- that's copyright infringment [with no fair use defense].

    You can, however, publish your version of the answers and reference the book in which the questions are written. Speak with your own intellectual property attorney to sort out the details. Good luck.

    The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client... more

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