Can I copy an engine manual?

Stumbling upon a manual online or during your work can be a tempting opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of a particular engine. Or simply have it on-the-go when you are working on an engine. There are some manuals available online, either legally or illegally. All the information you might need is in there, but what few people seem to know is that using manuals without permission can lead to infringing copyright. 

Based on our experience and knowledge, we have compiled some useful definitions and tips on how to approach engine manuals as an independent company. 


Copyright is the right given to an author to restrict and control the use the work they have created. In very simple terms, it is “the right to copy” a work. It covers original creations such as film, music, literature, scientific publications, etc. Essentially, anything that anyone creates which is original, is protected by copyright. 

However, copyright does not cover ideas, information, standard designs or numbers, but only the manner in which they have been expressed. For example, if you have an idea for a new device but have not written it down, your idea is not protected by copyright. However, if you publish an article presenting your idea, then the text of that article is protected. The idea itself will not be protected unless it has been patented. Another example are single words, names, titles, and short phrases. They are not substantial enough to be protected by copyright, however they can be registered as trademarks (see this article). 

Engine Manuals and Codebooks

Engine manuals contain information about the functioning of an engine, with guidelines on how to repair and service the engine and what to look out for. As such, they can be extremely valuable to an independent service provider or anyone working on a marine engine. They are usually published by the engine builder. 

Manuals and codebooks are generally subject to copyright and can only be used in the permitted way. This, of course, may differ from engine builder to engine builder, but usually they cannot be copied for any purpose without permission. 

In reality, this can be impractical. It could be very useful for the engine’s owner to make a copy of a part of the manual and provide it to the engineers (so they do not get their dirty hands on the original). It’s good to note that even saving a PDF copy to your computer may be seen as an infringement of copyright, as you are effectively making a copy of the manual. 

Manuals and codebooks also contain drawings and these are subject to copyright as well. This means you should be careful when considering whether to take drawings from a manual, especially if you intend to use them in a commercial way. Simple two-dimensional standard drawings (e.g. of a bearing), which are commonly used, are considered free from copyright unless there is some creative element in the drawing. 

Why you should be careful

Most manuals are protected by copyright since they are original works. Usually the copyright belongs to the engine manufacturer or other company which originally published the manual. As such, copying or distributing an engine manual without permission can be seen as an infringement of copyright. 

If the owner of the copyright decides to take legal action, then they would also have to show loss i.e. prove that your illegal use of the copyrighted work actually resulted in a loss for them. That could be difficult if you simply used the manual for information. However, if you used the manual or parts of it in a commercial setting, then proving loss could be much easier. There are exemptions to the infringement of copyright, such as copying a document or drawing for educational purposes, but you need to be very careful 

Naturally, you could try to get permission to use the manual. To do that, you can consider the following steps:

  • Determine whether you need permission – try to determine whether the work is protected by copyright, but do not assume that it is not. 
  • Identify the owner of the copyright – you can usually see who the owner is on the first or last pages of a written work. 
  • Identify the rights you need – think about how you want to use the manual, e.g. is it for internal use or do you intend to copy (parts of) it for your marketing materials?
  • Planning ahead – make sure you leave enough time for getting permission as it can take quite long and delay your plans. 
  • Contact the owner – make sure to mention what you will use the work for, for how long, and negotiate a price if needed. 
  • Get permission in writing – getting written permission (e.g. in the form of an agreement) is the best way to avoid uncertainties.