Interesting as Is it actually illegal to TeX `texbook.tex`? is (I'll even admit to voting for it initially), I'm no longer convinced that it is a suitable question for this site. There are two parts to the question: is it legal to TeX the TeXbook and is it moral to TeX the TeXbook.

The first of these certainly has a definite answer (well, one per country), but no-one on this site is obviously qualified to give it. I don't see any country's courts accepting the plea: "I read on tex.SX that it was probably okay so I TeX'd the TeXbook.". The point I wish to make is that an answer on tex.SX ought to be easily verifiable. There is no "minimum working code" that I can run on my computer to check if it is legal or not for me to tex the TeXbook:

pdflatex -only-if-legal texbook.tex

fails for some reason.

The second does not have a definite answer (at least without assuming the Axiom of Choice[1]) and will vary from person to person. It will probably also vary significantly by whether or not the condition is Knuth's or the publisher's. In the mathematics world there has recently been a considerable amount of discussion on a very similar incident (look up "Grothendieck" if you're interested). I'm not sure that this kind of discussion is really edifying for this site.

There is also the precedent to consider. For the above reasons, I don't think that I would like to see more questions on copyright and legal issues.

As a moderator, I can't "vote to close" without being dictatorial. So consider this a virtual "vote to close" to see whether or not I'm being too British[2] or not.

[1] Sorry.
[2] The stereotype being that the Brits are the only ones in the EU who actually obey the rules, I think that this originates with Yes, Minister.

  • The qn has 15 upvotes, which is some sort of case against closing. There are two close votes at present. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 14:44
  • 3
    @Charles: I don't consider that a reliable measure. A popular question can still be bad, and a good question need not be popular. I'd allow that the votes say that we shouldn't delete it (not that that was on the cards), but votes aren't enough to counter my objections (in my mind). Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 14:48
  • Actually, it seems that US law, at least, is in such a sad state that some such questions are not answerable without the assistance of a judge.
    – SamB
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 16:37
  • Yesterday evening I decided not to close the question and see how it develops. Now, since it has “degraded” into a discussion and shows signs of a possible flame war, I think it is time to close it.
    – Caramdir
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 17:04
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    Closed. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 19:41
  • Had I seen that in time, I too would have voted to close. That said, the discussion was interesting. (I know nothing of copyright law outside of the US.)
    – TH.
    Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 7:38
  • Is this question closed or not? Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 16:30
  • @Yossi: the original question has been closed. Charles' comment above was pointing out that it had been closed. Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 19:42

3 Answers 3


It's been a discussion with some useful content, but we aren't a discussion site and it's time to close it. But to split a couple of hairs:

  1. There are a fair few users of this site whose day job is related to the publishing industry. As a copy-editor, I've carefully read the parts in Chicago and Butcher's about what authors and editors need to know about copyright. I reckon that makes my opinion worth 1/750th of a lawyer in such matters...
  2. General legal questions are one thing, but legal questions about the Texbook are another... Of course, that makes closing it that much stronger a statement.

So I'm voting off-topic.

  • The problem with (1) is that I have no easy way to verify who has read those books and who hasn't. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 12:51

Even as I took part in the discussion I became more aware that it drifted away from TeX...However, I think that as a "funny friday" (I know what day it is today...) post, it's not so bad. I'd vote to keep the post with the stipulation that we do not want to have many such posts here.

  • Meta.so has an "It's always Friday in Finland" tradition. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 12:17
  • @Charles: I'm not keen on that kind of in-joke because it's not immediately obvious to the outsider that it is an in-joke. So it's easy to fall foul of the unwritten rules. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 12:53
  • Of course, we can close the question and keep it too. I don't think we should delete it, but I can see the argument for closing. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 13:12
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    @Harald (and others): to be clear, I'm only considering closing this question. I have no desire to delete it. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 13:21

Well. There could have been an answer to the question if, for example, someone qualified (= a lawyer, or Knuth) had already answered it somewhere else.

So the question should perhaps been formulated differently. I agree that it’s off-topic in its current form for the reasons you offered.

  • 1
    The problem with that is the multitude of jurisdictions. It may well be legal in Norway, but illegal in the US, for example – in fact, that is what I would guess. In any case, Knuth is not a lawyer, so he is probably not qualified to answer it. He could state his wishes, as he is the undisputed expert of those. But I think Barbara Beeton has already explained what Knuth wants. Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 12:00
  • @Harald: I hadn’t seen her comment (should have been an answer, really). Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 14:15

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