As prompted by NullUserException อ_อ, I'd like to try get a definitive moderator view on what is the appropriate action when a user spots an obvious copyright violation on Stack Overflow.
To be clear, I have a reasonable understanding of fair use and am myself not averse to posting small extracts of code to which I do hold rights. What I am talking about is when large extracts of code are posted in clear and obvious violation of rights holders.
This issue has been prompted by a couple of recent questions.
This question was flagged (not by me) as containing copyright code and then deleted by a moderator who stated:
I was the one that deleted the question, and answer, and the reason was that all the code is lifted from source code copyrighted by Embarcadero.
[Aside: I am as sure as I can be that none of the deleted code is copyrighted by Embarcadero.]
However, another moderator, not involved with the voting and deletion on the disputed question has stated:
In order for a moderator to remove infringing content from Stack Overflow, the moderator must be able to verify that copy-pasting took place. In the absence of that verification, a better course of action is for the copyright holder to provide SE corporate with a DMCA take-down notice.
Moderators make every effort to remove copy-pasted material when they can, but they cannot get involved in copyright disputes, for a number of reasons:
- Mods cannot always verify that copyright infringement is taking place.
- Mods don't have the power or the authority to fully act on copyright issues.
- Mods do not know the intent of the copyright holder.
Before flagging such questions, consider raise the issue with the OP first by posting a comment on his question. It's possible they will voluntarily comply.
But the only persons/entities that can raise a copyright claim are the copyright owners themselves, and the only way they can legally do that is by issuing a DMCA takedown notice to SE corporate.
I flagged this question:
The code posted here is copyrighted by Embarcadero and comprises key chunks of the TApplication class from Forms.pas
This flag was declined: a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it.
I don't think there can be any debate that the code in this question is copied from the Delphi VCL source. The user asking the question states this! [Aside: Perhaps the reason for declining the flag should have been more informative.]
Another question, which I cannot locate
Recently I raised in comments what I believed to be an unattributed lift of a P/invoke declaration from pinvoke.net (the two declarations were identical character for character) in a Stack Overflow answer.
This is pretty benign and I just suggested to the answerer that the original source should be credited. This rapidly descended into a comment war which I should have exited much sooner than I did. A moderator told me off for this (justifiably) and I asked how I should have handled it. I was told that I should not have used comments since this would inevitably be provocative and instead should have flagged.
It seems to me that there is a deal of confusion around this issue and its treatment by moderators. I would like to ask how a member of the Stack Overflow community should handle obvious copyright infringements. I am hoping that this question can result in definitive guidance.
One final point, and this is a bit of a gripe. I find the inconsistency of moderation disconcerting. The two questions I linked to had exceedingly different responses. The first had no copyright issue yet the question was deleted and a very forceful message left by a moderator. The second had as clear a violation as ever there could be, and yet the flag was declined. This does not encourage community members to contribute to the running of the site.