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Should I flag plagiarism for moderator attention?

I recently flagged this answer for plagiarism.

The answer reads:

In an ASP.NET project, adding a file-based reference will add a .refresh file in the Bin folder. When the project is under source control, this file is then added to source control. *.dll.refresh files that litter the bin directory. Every time you add an external reference, you'll find a dll.refresh file right next to it. These dll.refresh files are an exception to the rule, and they should go into source control. Its the only way your web project will know where its references live.

Most of it (the bold part) is lifted from this guy's blog.

However, the flag was declined with the following message:

Moderators do not handle plagarism/copyright issues, for takedown notice information, see stackexchange.com/legal

Is this official policy now - you can copy&paste anything you want into your SO answer as long as the original owner doesn't raise a copyright claim?

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marked as duplicate by phwd, Martijn Pieters, kiamlaluno, animuson, Toon Krijthe Nov 18 '12 at 22:35

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4 Answers

There's a huge difference between dealing with copyright and dealing with plagiarism. The first is a legal matter and should be handled by DMCA takedown notices or direct contact with SE. We mods aren't qualified to make legal decisions, so we can't make any decisions on copyright.

Plagiarism is an issue of site quality and standards. That is something the moderators deal with. I usually delete posts that are almost completely copied from another source, just adding attribution is not enough in my opinion. Citing short parts from other sources is perfectly fine when they are attributed, but making a whole post consisting entirely of content from another source is not. As deletion is something a regular user can't easily do and a pattern of plagiarism makes moderator intervention necessary anyway, I think it is a valid reason to flag a post.

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Depends on what your flag says.

If it was about plagiarism then it is something a mod can handle on a case-by-case "is this a dick move" basis. Maybe they'll quote and attribute. Maybe they'll just delete. Your guess is as good as Harvey Dent's coin.

On the other hand, if it was a copyright issue, then you'd have to take it up with Stack Exchange and get all the mucky muck with DMCA takedown notices and whatfourthofjulyhaveyou.

Weird line? Yes. Just like the hair you find in the shower and you can't tell if that's naturally curly/twisted or just warped from the hot water. Maybe still it's just facial.

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My flag said Plagiarism from monsur.xanga.com/437206798/dllrefresh-and-aspnet. –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:00
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@Pekka If it's plagiarism you're worried about, just edit in proper attribution (perhaps more clearly than the comment you left). As for copyright, that's up to the copyright holder to claim. I don't particularly like it all, but that's how it seems to work. –  Bart Nov 18 '12 at 20:01
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But it is a pubic hair. I want it out of the shower, not redeclared into a kind of facial hair and allowed to stay. What do I do? –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:07
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As long as its in the shower and not on your sandwich... –  jmort253 Nov 18 '12 at 20:26
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You guys make me sick. –  RichardTheKiwi Nov 19 '12 at 1:52
    
@richard why? -- –  Pëkka Nov 19 '12 at 13:15
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I think the other issue here is that you're a user on Stack Overflow with a ton of reputation. Wow! As a result, you have permissions hundreds of times over to leave a comment and explain to the user what he/she needs to do to fix the problem.

Partly copied from monsur.xanga.com/437206798/dllrefresh-and-aspnet – Pekka Nov 7 at 23:40

The comment you left doesn't really do that. It makes sense to you and I, but not to the people that are committing the plagiarism. Plagiarism seems to be mostly an artifact of western culture and European cultures. In other cultures, it's not immediately obvious that copying content verbatim is bad. Thus, a better comment would be:

Hi User, it looks like you just copied most of this content from this blog . Can you edit your post and give attribution to the author? Plagiarism isn't really welcomed on Stack Overflow, and it's always nice to give credit where credit is due. Good luck!

The point is, moderators should really only get involved in exceptional circumstances, cases where regular users cannot do anything to fix the problem. Being as high a rep user as you are, I'm guessing people on Stack Overflow would be likely to take your words more seriously than your average regular user, enough to take action based on a well-articulated explanation of the rules or community norms.

I was going to suggest maybe editing the post for the user as well, but there's no guarantee the blog is actually the source, as that author may be a plagiarizer as well. Hope this helps!

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Yeah, fair point. There are cases where I'm 100% sure it's deliberate, but it is conceivable some users aren't as familiar with the concept as we are. Adding a nice comment first is certainly a good idea. Still, if you have a track record where 2 out of 3 answers are blatant word-for-word copies, I don't think there is a culture in the world that doesn't treat that as wrong.... Either way, it should be mentioned in the FAQ –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:39
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Sorry about that, but I only have so much space in the decline message (and I can only convey a message to you through a decline of the flag).

Long story short, as random states, if it's a pattern of behavior that we have to deal with the user, the flag is very helpful.

But if it's a single post, then that's something you can handle better as a user by casting a vote to delete, or by editing a reference in.

As you can see, moderators are going to respond differently to the flag.

In regards to the copyright notice, I see a fine line between plagiarism and copyright infringement (or at least, it's a short hop from making a claim of plagiarism to a claim of copyright infringement) and I err on the side of caution in these cases, referring to the takedown notice information in the legal section of Stack Exchange, as that's something moderators aren't meant to handle.

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Thanks for responding! The thing is, as a normal user I can't vote to delete (at least I don't think I can and I'm not seeing any button to that effect) and when it's this shameless, I don't think it's right to fix the answer so it can live on. All I can do is downvote and that is completely fruitless. The answer should be burninated IMO –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:34
    
@Pekka, I think you can only vote to delete if the post is negatively scored. That's a trusted user privilege. Still, I think there are other actions that could be taken before deletion, like leaving a comment (that explains the reason to the user) or editing in a reference on behalf of the user. –  jmort253 Nov 18 '12 at 20:39
    
@jmort but the comment has been there for almost two weeks now. He clearly doesn't care –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:41
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@Pekka - I'm sort of reaching at straws on this, and I realize that, but it is remotely possible that he has no idea why you posted a link to the blog post or what your comment means. I really feel like the explanation is important. It's common sense to you and I, but I can't for certain say that it would be common sense to people from other cultures. –  jmort253 Nov 18 '12 at 20:44
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@jmort good point. I'm going to comment using your template now. –  Pëkka Nov 18 '12 at 20:45
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@Pekka There's a whole big grey area around this, IMO. Consider all the following: 1) people found it to be of use, and this stuff gets voted up more than it gets down. We delete it, then a storm erupts on meta, as there is a small(er, now) group on meta that believes it has value. 2) When we see link only answers, we encourage people to put content from the link into the answer (in case the link goes down), at which point most people just blatantly copypaste from the link and then it passes for ok. We have a bit of a split personality here. –  casperOne Nov 19 '12 at 0:21
    
@Pekka I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but we end up in the same place. I don't think the place is a good one, but I don't know what the best solution here is either. –  casperOne Nov 19 '12 at 0:22
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