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O'Reilly Policy on Re-Use of Code Examples from Books

Bruce Epstein, author of Director in a Nutshell (out of print) and Lingo in a Nutshell, who is now working as a part-time editor for O'Reilly (he is editor of Colin Moock's recently published ActionScript: The Definitive Guide) sent in the following question:

"What is our policy with regard to programmers incorporating code examples from books into their work? I get asked this all the time."

The short answer is this:

You can use and redistribute example code from our books for any non-commercial purpose (and most commercial purposes) as long as you acknowledge their source and authorship. The source of the code should be noted in any documentation as well as in the program code itself (as a comment). The attribution should include author, title, publisher, and ISBN.

As is often the case, there's a longer answer as well. Bruce made it really easy for me to put this response together, since he forwarded an unofficial reply on this subject that he'd sent to the FlashCoders mailing list. What appears below is based on his message. (Hey, anyone else who wants to send the answer as well as the question to Ask Tim can make my job a lot easier :-) Thanks, Bruce.)

As per the copyright notice in our books, O'Reilly reserves all rights to the material in the book, including the code examples. This literally means that you can use the example code all you like, but you can't publish or redistribute it without our permission. In reality, we are comfortable with any reasonable "fair use" of the code, and you can assume permission is granted without contacting us. The threshold of what is reasonable (fair use) depends on a number of factors. First, if the book is published under an open source or open publication license, you can use the code examples without any obligation to us. Otherwise, use the following sanity tests:

  1. If the code is incorporated into a software product, Web site, or Web service, is the product, site, or service a commercial venture? We don't object to commercial ventures, but if someone is looking to profit from our work (or that of our authors'), and the use is substantial, we may want to consider a license fee. (Send licensing queries to permissions@oreilly.com.)

  2. Is the O'Reilly material incidental to the entire product? Are you using only a small excerpt? For example, you can't publish a CD-ROM of code examples from O'Reilly books without our explicit permission. But we aren't going to worry if you use a routine taken from our books as part of a huge software project, in which the borrowed code is incidental.

  3. Does the work compete with O'Reilly? For example, if you are a book publisher, you can't use anything from our books without our permission.

  4. Is proper credit given? Such credit would include a statement specifying the source of the material, such as "Derived from Example 10-2, ActionScript: The Definitive Guide by Colin Moock. Copyright 2001 O'Reilly & Associates." Note that giving credit does not insulate you from prosecution if you improperly use copyrighted material!

  5. Does your use fall within fair use provisions of copyright law? (Academic research, commentary, etc.) For example, you don't need O'Reilly's explicit permission to post a snippet of code on a mailing list if you are pointing out a bug, asking a question, or answering one. We especially like it when people answer questions by pointing to our books, quoting from them, and citing their examples, as long as they acknowledge the source!

    Acknowledging the source is particularly important. Bruce didn't mention this in his posting to FlashCoders, but I know that he personally was bit by this one. Someone was routinely answering Lingo questions on a mailing list by supplying examples from Bruce's book, without acknowledging the source (and leading people to believe that the poster had written them).

We put the code from our books online because we want it to be used. (Who wants to type it in?) That's why we make it available in lots of ways: for download from the Web (all examples are linked from the book's catalog page on oreilly.com), in our CD Bookshelf products, and in our new Safari online service.

If you are interested in licensing O'Reilly book content as a third party, send your request to corporate@oreilly.com.

--Tim

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