# Is selling a compilation of Math Stackexchange Q&As legal?

I was browsing Amazon and found this particular product with the following description:

If you have a question about Real Analysis this is the book with the answers. Real Analysis: Questions and Answers takes some of the best questions and answers asked on the mathoverflow.stackexchange.com website. You can use this book to look up commonly asked questions, browse questions on a particular topic, compare answers to common topics, check out the original source and much more. This book has been designed to be very easy to use, with many internal links set up that makes browsing in many different ways possible.

Topics covered include: Analysis And ODES, Functional Analysis, Measure Theory, Probability, Set Theory, Reference Request, General Topology, Number Theory, Logic, Differential Geometry, Complex Variables, Fourier Analysis, Integration and many more.

If this isn't legal, is there anything I can do about this in the future (someone I should notify, etc.)?

• The equivalent on Über-meta. Provided the content is properly attributed and licensed, it is legal. – Daniel Fischer Jun 29 '16 at 19:59
• Why do you ask this here? It says it's from MathOverflow. – quid Jun 29 '16 at 22:02
• @quid Then how about this one? In fact, that same "author" appears to have published hundreds of such texts on a vast array of topics stretching across the stackexchange network of subjects. I'm not particularly surprised and I think the question exposes a common naivete concerning the openness of their contributions on StackExchange. But (admittedly, without looking at the texts) I do think it's a bit sad. One wonders how well such a broad range of material could have been vetted. – Mark McClure Jun 29 '16 at 23:44
• It seems like it's legal, but strikes me as incredibly unethical. – user296602 Jun 30 '16 at 0:14
• The likes of those people also published collections of Wikipedia articles as books. – svavil Jun 30 '16 at 5:05
• I don't think it's unethical. It allows knowledge to spread out to a wider audience. – user230452 Jun 30 '16 at 6:53
• @MarkMcClure thank you for the additional example. In retrospect, I should have looked around myself before writing my comment. – quid Jun 30 '16 at 7:38
• You read the SE licensing agreement before you started posting here, right? – GEdgar Jun 30 '16 at 14:17
• I'm eagerly awaiting the author's next book, "The Stack Exchange License: Questions and Answers" with various samplings from meta. – Milo Brandt Jun 30 '16 at 15:25
• This book looks very badly made. The formatting is terrible and the questions are placed in a very random order. I bet it's made by a simple script where one just specify some tags (perhaps a vote-limit for which questions to accept) and press play and it autogenerates the "book". – Winther Jun 30 '16 at 20:21
• I understand this is legal, but that doesn't change the fact that I do not like it at all. Moreover, why would someone buy some poorly formatted book whose content is freely available online? – Silvia Ghinassi Jun 30 '16 at 20:53
• @SilviaGhinassi some of the books are sold as paperbacks. Somebody may not want to take an electronic device to the gym, to the beach, or the mountains, or wherever, yet still read some posts there. Some may be fond of owning a book, where something they wrote appears. Plenty of products are just putting together freely available things. All that said, I really do not see myself buying such a book. But then that's true for most books that exist (and this while I buy many a book). – quid Jul 1 '16 at 10:08
• (Or the product is just putting together things in a relatively simple way, yet the final price is considerably higher.) – quid Jul 1 '16 at 10:21
• That is a (legal) abomination, but it would be interesting to publish a free best of MSE with the supervision of the whole community. Sounds like a huge project, anyway. – Jack D'Aurizio Jul 3 '16 at 21:31
• To properly format and putting questions together into enlightening contexts can probably create some value so I don't like the idea that it would be prohibited. Like laying a jigzaw puzzle, finding neat pieces to put together is an important part but maybe the real (difficult) contribution which could create new value would be the context handling. Finding which pieces go well together. A dragon can be epic and a galactic star destroyer can also be, but you would need some work to make them go well together. – mathreadler Jul 8 '16 at 12:25

[One is] free to:

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

This, under the condition one follows certain rules, specified by the license and SE (most notably Attribution and allowing others to Share Alike, that is the new work is distributed under the same license). This is just the gist; for details, see the page linked above and
"legal", especially the section on Subscriber Content in the footer.

Thus, it can be perfectly legal to create books from SE content and sell them. I did not look into the details of whether the creator of the book followed all the rules, but from the post on the general Meta, linked by Daniel Fischer, it appears an SE employee is of the opinion, they do. Thus, it seems this is is legal.

On the side-question whether this is ethical. The relatively permissive licensing is an explicit choice SE made (and as far as I understand, even a point of pride); they could very well have chosen another licensing model that does not allow it. Therefore, I do not think making use of this license is in itself unethical; to allow such things is the very point of having such a license.

(Of course, a specific product could still raise an eye-brow. In favor of the specific ones, I would point out that the creator is a quite active member of the SE community and also that they state quite clearly these are compilations of questions from the SE network. That said, the sheer number of books produced makes me wonder how much care went into the production of any one of them. But, maybe I would be positively surprised. Either way I do not find it unethical.)

• I find it unethical. Where did they get permission from the authors of the posts? Where did they cite each author? Is it not a scam to charge one for something publicly available to them? – The Great Duck Jul 1 '16 at 4:23
• They need to cite the authors of the post, though. I think this is done. If not, it would be a problem. – quid Jul 1 '16 at 10:23
• I was talking about morality not legality... – The Great Duck Jul 1 '16 at 15:43
• Yes, I understood that. You may want to explain what specific problem you have. Rather than to ask some vague, in part rhetorical, questions. Again, they have no reason whatsoever to ask the individual authors of the posts; in fact doing this would be an odd thing to do. – quid Jul 1 '16 at 16:01
• saying a rhetorical question or a series of rhetorical questions is a valid way of expressing dislike towards something. I was merely expressing my opinion. There wasn't even an expected reason for one to reply. I was merely adding to your answer with my own opinion. – The Great Duck Jul 1 '16 at 18:05
• If you want to express a concern regarding this matter, please, have at least the good taste to do it directly and not by allusions via such questions. While in principle such questions can be a valid stylistic element. Yours are quite problematic. Your 'question' regarding citing the authors is especially problematic as this seems to be done. And, the question regarding permissions seems to show a misunderstanding of the licensing. Thus your opinion that this is unethical seems to be based on simple lack of information; this could be avoided in part had you tried to written down the concern. – quid Jul 1 '16 at 18:20
• i was not actually aware of what the author had done or not done. I was merely pointing out that creative commons licencing does not completely handle the moral neccessity of giving academic credit. It may or may not be a requirement. I was merely pointing out that it is good courtesy to do so, and yes I said a rhetorical question on whether it is a scam. It does seem a little... Bizarre to repackage questions and sell them when they are publicly accessible. It may be legal, but you are technically agreeing to buy nothing. Wouldnt you agree (not rhetorical)? – The Great Duck Jul 1 '16 at 19:56
• My answer contains the information that the license used in fact does require attribution and it seems that this was followed. It is not clear why you felt the need to point out what you say you wanted to point out. On the other point, no, I do not agree. There are many business, generally considered as acceptable, based on repacking, making things available more easily, convenience, etc. In a supermarket I can buy a melon or a melon without the outer skin and without the seeds in the interior. Usually, the latter is more expensive. They charge me for less than nothing. That's one scam! ;-) – quid Jul 1 '16 at 20:20
• Now, you can say, but of course there I need to pay the work done. But this is exactly the same. Somebody who pays for the book pays the work done by the creator in selecting and collating the Q&A. You think this is not worth the money they charge for it? More power to you. Do not buy the book. Usually, I buy the entire melon. But I never thought offering the processed one was a scam. – quid Jul 1 '16 at 20:28
• well there is this thing called a search... Or the tagged pages listing... Perhaps scam is a bad word choice. Perhaps "a silly pointless idea and a waste of money" is applicable. After all, you said there were many books. That seems to imply that little or no work went into them. i certainyl wont buy the book. I was merely making a comment earlier. It was not intended to create a discussion nor was it intended to be replied to. It was simply an expression of things you should keep in mind in your answer. – The Great Duck Jul 1 '16 at 20:36
• @TheGreatDuck, If producing and selling those books did not generate profit, it would not had been done. Appealing to morality is not a good idea, because people do not and do not have to agree on what is good and what is bad. I, for instance, disagree those notions are even well-defined, let alone subjectively useful. One can do whatever they want: it's a free country. Said that, one may find implanting someone else's ethics and judging their actions upon them as unethical, itself unethical. – dbanet Jul 2 '16 at 16:09
• Share - copy and redistribute the material **in any medium or format** Adapt - remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially. [...] This, under the condition one follows certain rules, specified by the license and SE (most notably Attribution and **allowing others to Share Alike**, that is the new work is distributed under the **same** license) Just wondering, but doesn't the above mean that one could legally and ethically convert the ebook to (say) plain pdf and post a free download link. – dxiv Jul 3 '16 at 4:55
• @dxiv yes (up to technical details). – quid Jul 3 '16 at 12:14
• dxiv: yes I think you are right as long as all the attribution is respected - including that of the one(s) doing the compilation, and the users. – mathreadler Jul 8 '16 at 11:47

As long as they respect the BY (attribution) and SA (share-alike) clauses I think they will be fine legally. That would require them to keep the user (name)s posting answers as well as questions tied to the respective questions and answers - preserving attribution (of each individual user). Since I have not read the material I don't know if that is the case.

• They did. I took a look at some of the pages and each user is hyperlinked, i.e. attribution is given. – Insane Jul 9 '16 at 9:50
• @Insane So I can tell my mom I've officially been published in a book, perhaps? She'll be so proud! – pjs36 Jul 12 '16 at 1:39
• @pjs36 Yup, heh – Insane Jul 12 '16 at 1:40

Maybe this sort of thing should be applauded? It could in the long run bring more people here.

Writing this as an answer in hopes that it gets more visibility than @MarkMclure 's comment (and marking it community wiki).

I visited the author's page at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/George-Duckett/e/B00M87SQR2/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

There you can find links to 437 books each of which looks just like the one the OP has asked about - so I suspect they are in fact generated by a script that accepts an SE site and some tags as input and produces the book.

He does seem to have designed the covers individually, with several templates.