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Other users have been leaving me angry and hostile comments accusing me of plagiarism and saying that I'm a liar and I should stop stealing answers. But I have only been copying content from other sites, not taking answers from other users.

I don't understand what is wrong here. Shouldn't we be focused on building all the content and knowledge in a single place, much like Wikipedia does?

What does it matter that I copy and paste content I've found elsewhere so long as the question gets an answer?

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What exactly is plagiarism?

In the context of Stack Exchange sites, any copying and pasting of any amount of text or code that wasn't written by you is plagiarism if you try, explicitly or implicitly, to pass it off as your own work. For a more detailed definition, see the Wikipedia article.

Why is plagiarism wrong?

You may not be aware of this, but plagiarism is considered a grave infraction in academic and professional circles around the globe, and it can lead to dire consequences if discovered. By plagiarizing, you steal someone else's work and pass it as your own, earning you credit and respect where it's not deserved. Copying someone else's work without permission can also constitute copyright infringement, which is illegal in most countries.

Specific to Stack Exchange, plagiarizing other people's work can earn you reputation points and the community's trust with zero effort. This angers users who give their valuable time, and often put hours, sometimes days of work into their answers.

But I only wanted to help!

Remember, Stack Exchange is not a support forum or a chat room. The goal of "helping" the asker does not justify copying content from elsewhere without attribution.

Your motives may have been perfectly good, but to the site's users it looks like you were trying to gain reputation points without putting any work in it, or adding any valuable content to the site.

I've been caught. How can I fix the situation?

If you've been caught plagiarizing, it's possible you'll get downvotes or angry comments from users. Stay calm and polite; showing an honest effort to fix what you did wrong is the most reliable way to pacify the community. Stack Exchange is a very forgiving place if you put in some effort.

If you know you have a lot of plagiarized contributions, you can help fix the situation by going through every one of them and adding attribution where appropriate (see below on how to do that). If you want multiple contributions deleted altogether, do not delete them yourself (as this may trigger internal alarms) but flag for moderator attention and ask for deletion.

It is possible that moderators suspend you, or delete some of your content if plagiarism has been discovered. You will most likely receive a moderator message detailing which, if any, measures have been taken.

How do I properly add attribution in the future?

If you want to reference an existing answer on a Stack Exchange site as part of your own answer, link to the answer and possibly even the author's profile. The attribution goes before the copied content so it's obvious to everyone who it's from. Copied content should be quoted in blockquotes.

Example:

As Peter Parker said in this answer,

Gotham City's sewage system was built in the 1910s. It consists mostly of concrete tubes, although some of them are ceramic. They're designed to withstand seismic shocks of up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.

The same rules apply if you want to reference an external source somewhere on the web. Paste the URL and point out who the author is. Note that external sources may be protected by copyright even if you add attribution. Instead of copying and pasting everything, use only chunks of text, and paraphrase what the source says. In copyright law, this is called fair use.

Remember, you still have to write an actual answer, in your own words. A post that consists only of copied text, even when attributed, is not your work either. Use quotes sparingly, to support your own words.

Duplicates

If you see a question that has been asked on a Stack Exchange before, do not copy & paste answers from the original question. Instead, vote to close as a duplicate, flag as a duplicate, or leave a comment stating that there is a good answer available already. Every time you do this, you actively contribute to the quality of the site, and help the asker, without having to resort to plagiarism.

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    "any copying and pasting of any amount", this means that even one character?.... being less evasive would be better. – sorin May 5 '14 at 15:47
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    @sorin what exactly constitutes plagiarism will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I don't think it's useful to try and pin down the exact amount in this context. If in doubt, the safest rule of thumb is "don't copy & paste anything". – Pëkka May 5 '14 at 15:53
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    This really is a horrible definition of plagiarism. Using someone else's words is the problem, whether that is done using technical tools such as copy+paste, or by manual retyping. – Ben Voigt Sep 14 '14 at 5:34
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    Plagiarism should be defined as "the passing off of any idea as your own, where it was actually copied or reinterpreted from a source for which you show no attribution." Determination of this can be difficult, but moderators are entrusted to reach a decision that benefits the site. To avoid self-referential difficulties, I did not intentionally copy that quote from anywhere else! – j5v-exit Mar 26 '15 at 16:15
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    @j5v-exit I totally appreciate the sentiment, and I agree, but I'm not sure a standard that strict can work on a programming Q&A site like this one. After all, the right answer to most questions around here - the mundane, everyday ones - is not going to be an original thought, but something taken from a manual or received from someone else at some point. Plus it's going to be absolutely impossible to determine in most cases and the decision that benefits the site will most of the time be, "let the content stay in place".... – Pëkka Mar 26 '15 at 21:49
  • The "why is plagiarism wrong" part is almost entirely about the real-world definition of plagiarism (which requires passing said work off as your own) and not the made-up definition listed here. Everything about why plagiarism is bad in academia is fallacious as part of the argument against "stack exchange plagiarism" listed here. I added a little clarification, but overall this feels very "I want my internet points" whiny and not actually productive. – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 7:58
  • "Copying someone else's work without permission can also constitute copyright infringement, which is illegal in most countries." this is also not a blanket true statement. I also removed a link to the wikipedia entry for plagiarism because it's referring to the normal definition of plagiarism. If there needs to be rule about citing other works, that's fine, but it's disingenuous to pretend it's plagiarism. – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 8:40
  • @xaxxon that's why it says "can". I'm very open to suggestions how to improve this (including the definition of "plagiarism"), but the Wikipedia article seems broad enough to warrant linking here. – Pëkka Feb 28 '17 at 8:42
  • @xaxxon maybe there is a misunderstanding about the purpose of this FAQ entry. The kind of behaviour it was created in reaction to is typically the kind where someone copies a Stack Overflow answer (or some other piece of content on the web) and passes it off as their own. People do this all the time; sometimes, their entire track records consist of nothing else. You can call being opposed to that whiny if you want, I'm not sure what is so problematic about calling the behaviour plagiarism. Far as I can tell, it is plagiarism in the sense that the term is commonly used. Can you elaborate? – Pëkka Feb 28 '17 at 8:44
  • @Pëkka the wiki article talks about passing work off as your own. That is the primary reason why plagiarism is considered wrong. This definition has literally 0 such requirement. – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 8:47
  • @xaxxon indeed! You're right, that should be clearer. Not sure what thought process lead to the way it is currently done but in hindsight it's definitely misleading. Will try to improve – Pëkka Feb 28 '17 at 8:48
  • This whole post seems like it's trying to use the stigma against the dictionary definition of plagiarism to say why the stack overflow definition of plagiarism is wrong. Plagiarism is a very powerful word. Trying to use that "power" while actually referring to something else is what I consider disingenuous. It probably also confuses people as to what the commonly accepted definition of plagiarism is. – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 8:49
  • For example, if I am in school and I write something and say that I found something in a magazine but leave off the citation to the specific magazine, I'm not going to get kicked out of school. I might get decreased credit for it (or just asked to propertly add the citation) but it's a far cry from passing it off as my own original thought because it's not considered plagiarism – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 8:51
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    @Pëkka well, the only reason I'm here is because someone was quoting it in defense of what was literally posted here, not "dictionary" plagiarism. In the comments here: stackoverflow.com/questions/42500897/… I don't have a problem with requiring citations on copied code, I just don't like people abusing terms to get the generally accepted connotation without the generally accepted denotation. But it sounds like we're on the same page. – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 8:54
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    @Pëkka also it appears there are some less-cumbersome definitions of plagiarism which this definition would fall under (see wikipedia article) but some seem to define so much as plagiarism that a simple typo would make you a plagiarist. (no need for a reply) – xaxxon Feb 28 '17 at 9:04

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