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Over the years I have seen questions on the main site that could be answered with a link to an online service manual.

While I prefer to err on the side of caution, I feel there is a need to have an official site-wide policy There are several facets to this question:

  1. I'm not well-versed in copyright laws, so I would like to know if any of the following would result in copyright infringement. Bear in mind that all :

    1. Copying wholesale text/images/instructions
    2. Linking to external sources that reproduce copyrighted service manuals verbatim (example)
    3. Linking to pages that link to external sources that reproduce copyrighted service manuals verbatim example
    4. Paraphrasing instructions or key information from external sources or links to external sources that reproduce copyrighted service manuals
  2. The credibility of an answer can often be bolstered by citing the source of the information. How should one cite the service manual in case some or all of the above are deemed to violate copyright law? (example)

  3. Does the age of the service manual play a role here? Would any of the rules change between a 1981 hypercar and a 2014 grocery-getter?

  4. The questions above are concerned with doing things right, but what about doing the right thing? The community has a collective obligation to support others in need of help. If the information in service manuals is off limits how can we continue to support questions that need that information?

  5. Is there a precedent on any SE site with regards to this topic?


Tough questions, but someone has to ask them :)

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At least in US law, what you are referring to is known as Fair Use.

From Stanford University Libraries:

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

From a US legal perspective, it needs to be public domain.

If it isn't, you can't reproduce it UNLESS it is for the purposes of referencing it for comedy, or attempting to remark on it. So, you could (theoretically) post the entire Star Wars movie, with voice over that provides a narrative about how you feel about it. Theoretically, you'll win in a lawsuit.

As far as limitations (again, this is US only):

One of the most obvious and important limitations to copyright is that it is not perpetual and expires after a set amount of time. The length of a copyright on work created during or after 1978 is the life of the author plus seventy years. For works of corporate authorship, the term is 95 years from date of publication or 120 years from date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Source: https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/stopping-internet-plagiarism/your-copyrights-online/limitations-of-copyright/

So, it's going to be a long time before the copyright on those manuals expire.

On to a real life example: if we extend the example to a scanned page from a manual, it seems to me that annotations constitute commentary. So, posting a scanned unaltered page from a manual is likely breaking copyright law. Scanning a page, blocking out most of the irrelevant material, and adding remarks about the discussed procedure could be enough to fall under Fair Use.

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  • While including an imbedded single image and referencing it may be fair use and unlikely to trigger issues, I'd be concerned about linking to other sites that post entire manuals - more for the possibility that they may get a takedown and result in a broken link in the answer which is always the risk for external links. – Blackbeagle Dec 29 '16 at 3:10

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