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I saw this so many times...

  • A user A enters an answer. User B enters another totally different answer. Later, user A appends B's answer to his answer without asking for permission. Even in case A user didn't mean to copy, I think it's worth to mention who originally posted that piece of answer (maybe simply ask for permission to append it) or delete it from your post.

It's really frustrating and happens so often that I thought I'd check if there is an official way to manage this.

This doesn't apply for obvious and basically similar and simultaneous answers. It's striclty for later edits.

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Do you have a specific example? It may be difficult to determine how much is copying and how much is valid editing –  simchona May 25 '12 at 18:47
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And who copied whose answer there? I mean, it's not a writing contest, this is pure programming language syntax. There's obviously one easy way to achieve what the OP wants. –  slhck May 25 '12 at 18:48
    
If the copying is just a number of people presenting the same (obvious) line of code at the same time, nope, it's not an issue (even if what you describe is frustrating, I agree). If it's a paragraph or more copied word by word, it may be worth flagging. –  Pëkka May 25 '12 at 18:49
    
It was the example that I have in last minutes, basically an existing answer was appended a couple of minutes later, but I'm not tryng to accuse anyone in particular here. Just wanted to know if we can use the flag feature for a valid case. –  Claudio Redi May 25 '12 at 18:52
    
How would you be able to tell a valid case in short instances? How could even a mod? –  simchona May 25 '12 at 18:55
    
Well, if the answer is appended after 10 minutes is quite easy to say that. –  Claudio Redi May 25 '12 at 18:57
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@ClaudioRedi What if someone left their edit window open while they tried other things out? –  simchona May 25 '12 at 19:00
    
@simchona: if I entered an answer at the same time that other person, I keep, If I spend 10 minutes writing my answer and after posting it I detect that someone else already did it 9 minutes ago, I delete it. –  Claudio Redi May 25 '12 at 19:03
    
@ClaudioRedi That doesn't imply copying though. –  simchona May 25 '12 at 19:04
    
@simchona: well, but what's the point of keeping your answer if other people already posted the same? adding noise to the question? As I said, is a different case if different people added the answer almost at the same time. –  Claudio Redi May 25 '12 at 19:06
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@ClaudioRedi Unless your answer is a verbatim copy, then you could have explanations that are better. –  simchona May 25 '12 at 19:06
    
What should stop you from posting your answer too? Over time, votes will decide which one is "better". The OP might even accept yours if he understood it better than the other(s). Who knows? –  slhck May 25 '12 at 19:08
    
@simchona: with that argument even a verbatim copy can be taken as a valid answer in any situation. I disagree, but just wanted to know other's people thoughts. thanks –  Claudio Redi May 25 '12 at 19:11
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1 Answer 1

up vote 14 down vote accepted

There are different cases you need to judge.

  • The answer is a verbatim copy – in this case, one answerer went ahead, copy-pasted the contents of another answer into theirs. Character by character. Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V. This obviously happened after the other answer was posted. This is somewhat unfair and I guess you could revert that edit and/or flag for moderator attention.

  • The answer is not a verbatim copy – it either:

    • Takes an idea from another answer and presents it in the answerer's own words. This is something I wouldn't flag. First of all, you might not even be able to tell if there was "plagiarism" involved or two people were just thinking the same. How often do you sit over an "edit" window, adding information to your answer without even looking at the others?
      Even if someone appended more info to their post, everybody else is free to do the same. The ultimate goal is the best answer, and this is something that may need to evolve over time. You could come up with a better explanation, more details, further links, et cetera.

    • Points out the obvious. For "easy" programming questions, like "How do I … in Java?", there rarely is more than one type of answer. With the high traffic on SO in general and especially for certain tags, expect very similar answers to be posted within a few minutes. You can't accuse anyone of "stealing" other answers here. I wouldn't flag in such a case either.

After all, remember that posts should be voted on individually, without looking at the others. So unless their content was a 1:1 copy without disclosure or proper citation, you should vote on the merits of the post itself. You can't always accuse those who are answering of stealing ideas from other answers, unless it's really evident. Neither can moderators, and this is why there's rarely a need to flag these kinds of posts.

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Not just the contents of another answer, but also the contents of some article or post elsewhere on the Internet. Those are pretty tricky, but users who are great at discerning writing styles (like myself) can easily spot something that wasn't written by a certain user, but rather copied. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 25 '12 at 22:18
    
Yeah, that's something not only related to answers on the same post being similar to each other, but more of a general problem when reviewing late answers or watching some users' activities. Takes a bit of reading (and knowing your users) though to find that out – a task that is much harder on Stack Overflow than on other sites. –  slhck May 25 '12 at 23:57

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