Note-taking and Copyright Infringment

MarginaliaI don’t often post to Twitter before I’ve even had my morning coffee, but I did this morning (February 23; see the image below for the post).

What occasioned the comment was an article in the Chronicle that I’d received an email about, noting that Kno is suing Cengage Learning for breach of contract. Nate Hoffelder has some commentary here.

As I understand the case, it boils down to this. Kno is suing because Cengage has pulled their books from Kno’s store. Cengage did this because Kno made it possible for students to annotate their textbooks and easily use those annotations, through a feature called Journal. Cengage claims that this makes derivative works possible, and is thus an infringement of their copyright.


Of course, highlighting, annotating, and even quoting from books of many sorts is nothing new. We’ve written quite a lot about annotating digital texts here at ProfHacker. Really, whether we’re annotating digital or traditional print works, isn’t annotating texts a big part of what we do in academia? And don’t we go even further, and (gasp!) even use our notes—and even direct quotations—in our own work (keeping within the boundaries of fair use, of course)?

If the mere ability to preserve annotations and highlights constitutes copyright infringement, where does that leave the articles, blog posts, books, digital projects, etc. that we produce with them?

If you have any thoughts or insights on this question, please share them in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by cobra]

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