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In this answer the requested instruction sheet was found in a posting on a site not dedicated to the permanent hosting of content (Ebay). This means the link provided will eventually rot and the linked content is going to be lost. There are two perspectives here, one is to avoid violating the copyright of the instruction sheet and the other is to keep providing information for future visitors.

What is the official way to solve this conundrum, or what is the opinion of the community?

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  • My concern was not actually for Ritvik's copyright, but for the eBay user. I didn't have a problem with linking to the auction listing (and its images) but could reasonably see someone being unhappy that I copied their image and used it for some other purpose. – RSchulz Oct 6 '20 at 13:26
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I am no expert in copyright law and this can tend to be a fairly complicated subject with terms that varies between countries, so I will do my best to give my interpretation.

For photographs of instruction sheets, set boxes, promotional materials and so on, I believe the copyright belongs to the company that designed the products (LEGO for example) and not the photographer, in this case the eBay user.

I noticed that in this particular case the brand is Ritvik and not LEGO so this is an exception. So in this case it's a bit difficult for me to describe a clear answer as it's a photo of another companies intellectual property.

LEGO generally do not seem to have a problem with people sharing these sorts of things as long as it is done so as fair use and not someone attempting to scam, mislead or harm. If someone was attempting to pass of these instructions as their own, perhaps selling them as their own design, that would be in bad faith. If this was ever an issue I believe it would have been raised at some point as part of us becoming a recognised LEGO group.

The Stack Exchange official guidance is very relevant in this case, as it is mostly about plagiarism of written work.


Perhaps I could suggest some general rules for avoiding copyright violations:

  1. Wherever possible use your own original material.
  2. Clarify the copyright status, some images are available under an open licence which enables free distribution with or without modification and attribution. Google Image search for examples allows you to search for unlicensed material.
  3. Attempt to contact the creator for permission (perhaps more likely to work with individuals as opposed to large companies).
  4. Attribute the creator, perhaps including a link to the original source along with their name.
  5. As a last resort, avoid using copyrighted material all together. Consider if fair use of the copyrighted material is valid and adds value to the answer.
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Most jurisdictions have some form of fair use/fair dealing in relation to copyright. Fair use in the US allows use of copyrighted works in certain cases:

the fair use of a copyrighted work ... for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Based on those factors, most of our use of copyrighted works should fall under fair use because:

  • We are using them for non-profit educational purposes.
  • We expect that our impact on the copyright holder (e.g. TLG) is not negative
  • We are typically using only a portion of a work (instruction step, photo of a set box or build, etc).

I believe it may be reasonable to consider even complete instructions as only a small portion of the overall work, as the set itself is the complete work. I don't personally see an issue with this content on our site, but I am not a lawyer. Several sites have existed for ages that host LEGO set instructions, and it is clear that TLG doesn't have a problem with those existing.

I'm not aware of any DMCA take down notices against our site during my time as a moderator, so I don't personally see a reason to take a more conservative stance on copyright at this time.

Wikipedia's policy on non-free content may also be informative if you've not seen it.

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