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I may have the chance to write software programming tutorials for my community college, and be paid for doing so. If they agree, I would like to release them in a very permissive license, such as CC0 or Public Domain, where my college can then take the work I create and use it as their own, without giving me credit. (I do not want to have my college keep ownership of my original documentation, because I would like to be allowed to use it in the future for my own purposes without having to cite my college).

I am confused about how CC0 interacts when I use others' ideas, or others' work, in my own work. For example, here are some ways I will use others' ideas or others' work:

  • If there is an original idea that I did not think of myself (such as using country names as function names to help demonstrate how program execution will "travel" from one place to another in the program), I will use different country names, but give credit that this was not my idea, by using a citation or a footnote.
  • I may quote passages from textbooks (and cite them).

I will be doing this for both publicly available works (such as textbooks), but also for works that aren't available to the public (such as notes I write myself from lectures I have attended (some of which are copying text and code from the blackboard), or from lecture slides that are only available to people from my community college).

The CC0 FAQ says:

Even though are you not making any warranties of copyright ownership under CC0, keep in mind that you are still responsible to any third parties who may have existing rights in your work when you distribute the work. For example, if your work contains another person’s work made available under a CC Attribution license, you will need to identify that work separately, attribute the author and provide the license. Likewise, for any other license(s), you will need to ensure that you are in compliance before distributing the work. Of course, if you do not have permission to distribute a work belonging to someone else, you will need to seek appropriate permission from the copyright owner before you use CC0. (https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/CC0_FAQ#Can_anyone_use_a_work_that_is_distributed_under_CC0.3F)

Does this mean that unless I contact every single person whose work I was inspired by or whose work I quoted and get their permission, that I cannot release my tutorials under CC0?

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Ideas themselves are not copyrighted, thus you can use them without any problem but it is always good of course to cite the source, and even if it is not compulsory from a legal standpoint, it is from an academic standpoint.

As for the second part, you can invoke fair use to cite very short quotes from textbooks and your course notes. Beyond that, you would need to ask permission. A better solution would be to reformulate the content to make it your own.

  • I see that I may have had some confusion between citing ideas from an academic standpoint, vs a legal/copyright standpoint. That is, I was always taught in school that it is a major offense to use any idea that was not my own. If you know of any good web resources where I can read more on this, I'd be very appreciative. – silph Feb 12 '17 at 1:27
  • Yes, schools put a strong emphasis on avoiding plagiarism for reasons that are very understandable and which also apply in the research community. I don't have specific resources in mind but for any question related to academy there is a specific StackExchange: academia.stackexchange.com – Zimm i48 Feb 14 '17 at 12:32

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