At the top of texbook.tex, it is written:

% This manual is copyright (C) 1984 by the American Mathematical Society.
% All rights are reserved!
% The file is distributed only for people to see its examples of TeX input,
% not for use in the preparation of books like The TeXbook.
% Permission for any other use of this file must be obtained in writing
% from the copyright holder and also from the publisher (Addison-Wesley).
  \errmessage{This manual is copyrighted and should not be TeXed}\repeat
\pausing1 \input manmac

Does this actually mean that would be illegal to TeX this file, or is it more likely an attempt at intimidation by Addison-Wesly?

Would it make any difference ...

  1. ... if the output were only for personal use?

  2. ... if the output were only used on-screen, not printed?

  3. ... if one already owned a copy of the TeXbook?

(Probably the answers to at least some of these questions vary from country to country.)

Also (this is probably a big can of worms), would it be wrong to do so?

  • 2
    TeXing texbook.tex used to be a standard speed test for TeX installations. That at least is one use that has never been frowned upon! Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 7:56
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    The more I read on this question, the more I'm inclined against its being here. Meta discussion: meta.tex.stackexchange.com/questions/734/… Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 11:42
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    regarding the matter of texing texbook.tex, i'd like to point out that everyone i was aware of who used this for a speed test of a tex installation before about 1990 explicitly asked for, and was granted permission by don knuth for this use. he has never, to be best of my knowledge, been asked for and granted permission for other uses. i know for a fact that he does not condone posting of pdf files of the texbook on line, even if such a file is limited to a small audience, say a class using the book for a textbook. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 16:21
  • I've now cast the final vote to close. Any comments on this should be made on the meta thread linked in my comment above. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 18:11
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    (I'd also like to point out, for those who don't click through, that Barbara Beeton works for the AMS and is likely to know much more about this matter, and in particular Donald Knuth's wishes, than the average tex.SX user.) Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 18:12

4 Answers 4


Depending on where you live, I think it can indeed be illegal to process the texbook.tex file into a pdf even for your own private use only.

Not because of copyright law, but because the quoted part of the text represents a license agreement. As you cannot process the document without seeing the warning first as well as actually having to edit the file, you cannot even argue that it is unilateral.

Whether the license agreement is in fact legally binding depends a lot on how your local legal system interprets contract law, but do not assume that just because you do not redistribute, you are automatically in the clear.

Now, is it wrong? That depends on everyone's personal norms and values. For me, I have actually done this, but on the other hand I am currently using my third hardcopy of the TeX Book (having wrecked the first two through heavy use) so I feel entitled now.

  • 1
    But the license should only give you rights, since you do not enter into an agreement with the author. Licenses are not contracts, because contracts are agreements. Of course, if Knuth had put into the Tex program a notice saying "By continuing to run this program, you agree to the license", then there are legal possibilities. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 9:49
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    You've raised a point, Taco. The TeXbook is not a very good job publishing-wise. The one I have now is about 5 years old, and it is already yellowing due to high acid content in the paper. Many pages are ripped out of the wire rings and I'm really very tired of all the hassle I go through just opening it and trying to keep it all together. So, I ask myself, buy a 3rd copy? Or just print it out on good paper, bind it myself, and have one that will last? So far I haven't done that, due to some feeling that it's not right. But this thread has made me think of reconsidering.
    – bev
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 9:53
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    @Taco: your argument is equivalent to the following: "This comment is copyrighted. by reading it you agree to be my loyal and everlasting subject". I guess my point is the reading and agreeing is not the same thing. I can read a licence and not agree to it. in order to make that binding there must be a law...and thankfully, there isn't one. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 10:08
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    @Yossi: no, it is not equivalent. You have to actually change texbook.tex to make it run. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 10:20
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    @Taco: Of course it's quite simple for laws to stipulate that you are bound to do anything. But what you say can only happen if contract, license, and copyright are stipulated to mean something other than what they do mean. Authors and publishers have rights about distribution of copies even though they usually have no contact with the readers/users of their works. But because there is no contact, they cannot enter into agreement with these users, even implicitly. Licenses give freedoms, so anything that you are compelled to do has to happen other than by contract or license. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 10:44

Copyright are a bunch of rights that are automatically given to an author. An author may decide to give up some of them. Fair use (which is what you want to do with the manuscript) is not something a copyright notice can take away try as it may. This is the same for big companies and small.

Is it wrong? I don't see why, as long as you do not use it for distribution I see nothing wrong with it, as much as I respect and admire DEK.

  • 3
    'Fair use' is a concept in the copyright law of some countries, most notably the US. It does not exist here in the UK, for example.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 6:45
  • @Joseph: Right, but (most of) Europe is open to fair use principles (as well as open standards and open source), and playing the copyright infringement card on a small scale is uncommon on that side of the pond. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 7:18
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    Additionally to the non-existence of fair use, some countries, such as Germany, don’t have a copyright – they have an author’s right (“Urheberrecht”) instead. The author’s right grants far more rights than the copyright. However, as far as I know, clauses such as the one in texbook.tex are generally considered void under German law, much for the same reason that Yossi mentioned in his comment to Matthew. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 7:58
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    Also, at least in Norway, you are free to do almost anything to your own copy of a work, including duplicating it for your own personal use. But you cannot distribute the copies you made, of course. I fail to see the wrongness of this. (Personally, I own three copies of the TeXbook. I would have no moral qualms at all about TeXing a copy for on-screen use.) Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 8:00
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    @Joseph: It's misleading to say that the UK doesn't have fair use. It has a doctrine of fair dealing, which is generally more restrictive than American fair use, but also similar. The Society of Authors issued some guidance in 1965 on this that is generally respected, see this summary. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 10:04

The copyright holders have the right to decide what you can do with it. It seems clear to me.

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    According to what law? Copyright is a law regarding to distribution, not "what you do with it". A book cannot have a binding "copyright" notice stating that "you may only read it while sitting in a bubble bath", even if it is written in the copyright notice... Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 6:04
  • @Yossi is right, copyright is not generally concerned with use. This has to be so: in a acquiring a work, I do not enter into a legal agreement with the author. This is why so much software comes with click-through licenses, which have some force as contracts. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 9:40
  • OK, I agree that there's a distinction between use and distribution. But I also think that the copyright holder to a source file has the right to decide the circumstances under which you may compile it. I think the OP is probably going to do what he wants to do and is willing to accept the "consequences" such as they are, but let's not rationalize. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 13:28
  • @Matthew: authors may happen to have some other rights concerning how their work is used, but if so, it doesn't come about through copyright. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 14:47
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    US Copyright law is crystal clear about this whole business. See copyright.gov/help/faq. It is certainly legal to read while bubble bathing, and it is also certainly illegal to COPY while bubble bathing (in the US). That's what copyright means: the right to replicate, or reproduce, the work, period. Whether we distribute or not is irrelevant. The illegality is unchanged. The only exceptions are 1) for fair use or 2) with permission. All that said, such a thing is nearly impossible to enforce, especially against those who copy in a bubble bath and never distribute. Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 3:46

Yossi, I TeX'd the TeXbook years ago, the Metafont book too. I've never given it to anybody else, and I've only used it for my own edification. It's useful because I take my laptop places where I can't always take books. I've also bought two copies for my library, so he's gotten bucks from me.(I like real books more than e-books.)

I don't think Knuth cares, as long as you don't abuse it by distributing it. The whole point of copyrights is so the creator of intellectual property can make money from his work. And I've paid for the TeXbook (twice).

It's legal to xerox a book, as long as you don't distribute or sell it. It's legal to manually copy a book, as long as you don't distribute or sell it. I can't see a court making a distinction of compiling the TeXbook, as long as you don't distribute or sell it.

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    Again, the photocopying point is not universally true. In the UK you can't photocopy a book for any purpose at all unless you have a license (or the book specifically allows it). Most educational establishments have a license which allows some copying, but this is limited to a certain percentage of a book, or a number of articles from a journal, etc. Even then, you are only allowed to make one copy for personal use, again unless you are licensed to do otherwise.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 8:08
  • Joseph, thanks for the clarification. I'm just so used to seeing students, at the beginning of term, xeroxing textbooks, I wasn't aware that this was verboten in the UK.
    – bev
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 9:48
  • @bev:, I'm not entirely sure why you address your answer to me... Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 10:03
  • @Yossi: Maybe he meant to make a comment? I've done that a few times when the answer I wanted to comment on was the last shown on the page.
    – SamB
    Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 16:29
  • @Yossi, Sam is right, I meant it to be a comment.
    – bev
    Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 4:55

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