What are the things I should first check if I want to print a freely available ebook on internet for my own usage. I don't mean to just print using a home printer. I want to print it as a proper hardcover book (single copy as for my own use).

p.s. no this book is no where to be bought as a physical copy or electronically. It's sort of a lecture series, where author converted into free ebook years later.

If it's allowed what are some of the online services I can try for this ?

  • I am trying to get a textbook for school asap but everywhere is out of stock. I am trying to buy and ebook so I can print out some pages to write on because ebooks are too difficult to use to me. Can I print off ebooks from amazon as I have heard? Or even anywhere else..
    – user6001
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 15:01
  • Law depends on where you live, and possible where the stakeholders of the book are registered. Which is information you don't give. Also, which license is the book under? Is your copy pirated? Is it public domain? Under a CC license?
    – Raphael
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 11:43
  • @Brittany Welcome to the Ebooks Stack Exchange site. I have converted your answer to a comment, as it does not answer the OP's question. If you have a question, you should create your own or comment on an existing question/answer (although you likely do not have enough rep to comment yet). For more information please check out ebooks.stackexchange.com/help/deleted-answers and/or ebooks.stackexchange.com/tour. Thanks :)
    – Jason Down
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


The first point is that freely available does not mean freely usable, not even freely redistributable. Many copyrighted works are freely available, even placed under a Creative common licence, but still have legal restriction on their uses, regarding for example modification or commercial use. The fact that it is, or is not available in print or some other form is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the licence says. If you have no licence, then every use is forbidden, unless explicitly permitted by local law, though you are obviously permitted to read the document, as there would be no point in making it available otherwise.

However, the copyright law of some countries (France for example) allow private copying, provided it is for your own use (which implies that you do it yourself). There may be a further restriction that it is legal only if your access to the source work is itself legal, thus preventing copies from pirated sources.

In your case, you have legal access to the document as it is freely available. Hence, where law permits, you can make private copies on whatever medium, including paper. However, using an online service to get it printed would probably not be considered as doing it yourself. Even going to a print-on-demand shop in the street might be legally disputable.

Then, things seldom get that formal, and it is likely that no one, author included, will object, especially if the book is not available for sale in the form you seek, so that you cannot possibly cause him any damage.

Further legal details (to add accuracy to previous answers)

If you are in a country that is a member of the Bern Convention - which is most countries, USA included - the work is protected by copyright regardless of where it was created, and at least as well as work created within the country. Actually, in the USA, copyright protection is higher for unregistered foreign works than for unregistered US works.

In the USA, your legal risk in printing for your own use a book that has not been registered with the Copyright Office is very low, since the copyright owner cannot sue for attorney fees or punitive damage, but only to get the price of the printed book.

But I am not a lawyer.


You need to be careful in assuming that this book is "freely available". You mention that it is part of a lecture series, which leads me to believe that it was at one time used as materials to be handed out during that lecture series. As such, there is a really good chance that the author will retain full copyright privileges.

Keep in mind that even if the original material does not have a copyright notice explicitly displayed, it is still considered to be protected under copyright law. The 1976 Copyright Act provides that copyright protection begins ". . . in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed" (17 U.S.C.A. § 102(a))." Assuming this material was created in the US, that means the author retains the copyright for the duration of his life plus 70 years.

Most likely, the author won't mind you printing a copy for your own use, but the only way you can truly be sure that it is okay to do so would be to contact the author or find some place where he expressly grants permission.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. I will contact author of the lecture series regarding this.
    – Mev
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 7:02
  • @nsuinteger You do not need to assume that the material was created in the USA. The protection may actually be stronger in the USA for foreign material, when not registered with the copyright office. But the protection is really very limited for all unregistered works, at least until they are registered.
    – babou
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:48

If the book is explicitly free, then you can print the book and use it for your your own purposes. Please note however that the owner to the book's rights has to say so (author, publisher), not just anybody who only put it up on the internet.

Be sure to provide evidence to the print service provider up front, that you have the right to print this book, as otherwise they might inform legal authorities of possible copyright infringement.

That a book is freely available doesn't necessarily mean you have the right to do print it for yourself. If that were true then music sharing programs/websites that make some piece of copyrighted music freely available would make the music implicitly free to share. And that is not the case. A copyright owner has to take some action to ensure his rights if they are infringed but they are not always aware (immediately) that this happens.

  • @nsuinteger I find this answer a bit unclear. What do you mean by "free", gratis or covered by a free-licence? The music example is not accurate. The issue is not sharing but transferring on a local medium for personal use.
    – babou
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:43

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