In this post @MitchWheat commented with a link to his blog, exposing some useful content to the OP.

I thought that this content would make a good answer and no answer with that content seemed to be forthcoming. So, I plagiarised from the blog and made it into an answer. I was clear that I had done that and also clear that I would remove and upvote if an answer from the author was forthcoming.

My answer drew a couple of downvotes and I feel kind of dirty for writing it but, Is it the way SO should be used?

Should I delete the answer or leave it as it improves the content on SO.


Given the legal situation, I've deleted my answer. Not because I think I might have to go to court but, because copyright law has presumably developed to arbritrate in situations like this. Perhaps, my perception is naive...


And now, post edit, its back.

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    I've written a comprehensive answer about copyright issues with plagiarism. – Emil Vikström May 14 '13 at 11:18
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    Mitch cough could have written a proper answer if he wanted to cough. I don't think he'd mind - but this is a rather good question in general. – Tim Post May 14 '13 at 11:25
  • @TimPost, The question was stimulated by Mitch's comment "erm, that's not how SO works!", it made me wonder. How should SO work? – Jodrell May 14 '13 at 11:40
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    @Jodrell: Personally I think Mitch was half-right: Outright copying of his content is not appropriate (I think Tim has a good solution), but being annoyed when someone turns his link-only comment into an actual answer is not appropriate either (if he'd want to post an answer he should have done that instead of posting a comment). – Joachim Sauer May 14 '13 at 11:47
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    @Jodrell Everyone has an idea of how Stack Overflow 'works', fortunately most of us agree on most points. But there's no ambiguity, comments are ephemeral things that are designed to stimulate improvements to posts, or (in this case) new posts altogether - after which they've served their very short lived and temporary existence. If there's gold in a comment, it needs to be moved to a permanent place much sooner than later if it's going to continue to be helpful. All that remains is just putting more of your own thoughts and narrative into the answer and it's fine. – Tim Post May 14 '13 at 12:47
  • @Jodrell I believe Mitch's comment about "that's not how SO works" was because you answered with a block of code and no explanation. I suspect that was why he didn't post an answer either - because he didn't want to bother writing out the explanation for the code (I do the same thing sometimes - post a link in a comment because I don't feel like writing out a full answer, even though I know the link's content answers the question). If you were to edit your answer to include some kind of explanation with the code, you'd probably get his support :) – Rachel May 14 '13 at 13:04
  • Also, I've suggested an edit to your deleted answer to attribute the code to the author a bit better, and to briefly explain it a bit. Feel free to undelete it now, or edit it further if you want first :) – Rachel May 14 '13 at 13:09
  • @Rachel: that's certainly a possible interpretation. I don't think we can know for sure what he meant unless Mitch chimes in on the discussion. – Joachim Sauer May 14 '13 at 13:56
  • If you're really worried (about "feeling dirty") there is the option of making it CW (and so not getting any rep)... – hayd May 14 '13 at 14:03
  • @hayden by CW do you mean Community Wiki, how do I do that? – Jodrell May 14 '13 at 14:08
  • @Jodrell There's a checkbox on the right under the edit area that you can check to make the answer community wiki. – Daniel Fischer May 14 '13 at 14:09

The whole point of comments is to inspire a more permanent fixture, so if a comment answers the question and inspires you to make it into a proper, helpful answer then you should feel absolutely free to do so.

With that said, you do need to pay attention to how you cite, and how much you cite. Simply copying the text from an external site with a link to it is valid attribution, but citations should be short snippets of someone else's work that support your own original work. If you follow this model, you'll generally stay out of trouble. I'd venture to say that most people wouldn't mind the link, or part of their work being used to help a broad range of people. Just take what you really need to build your answer and make sure the majority of the post is your creation.

If they do happen to mind, they can contact us and ask for the text to be taken down - but it's us that they contact, not our users directly.

In this specific case, you've provided credit, but there's not much of you in your answer. What you could do (since you seem to understand it) is break the code up a bit into shorter excerpts and go into much more detail as to what's actually going on with it. And, of course, leave the link back to Mitch - but make it clear the answer is the result of your combined talents.

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    As a supplemental note - there is such a thing as fair use, depending on how a post is written and how much you cite. But, I don't want to get into arm chair lawyering here on meta - it's sufficient to say that it's our problem if there's ever a question over copyright raised. – Tim Post May 14 '13 at 11:23

Well, first of all, it's not plagiarism if you attribute it correctly.

It might still be a problem however. Specifically one of copyright.

You can't simply copy someones content and post it somewhere else publicly (only the owner has that copy-right, i.e. the right to copy).

So no matter what SO thinks about this: copyright law forbids you from doing that.

The best course of action would have been for Mitch to post an answer that summarizes (or copies, if the content is already well-summarized and fitting to the question) his blog post (and links to it, if he wants). But that's obviously outside your control.

On a related note:

The code that was linked-to doesn't seem to have any license information attached to it (not in the code, nowhere on the blog as far as I saw). This means that no one is allowed to use it (which was probably not what was intended). That's different when code is posted on SO: content posted here is under a CC license.

  • Its an interesting point. I don't want to get sued. – Jodrell May 14 '13 at 11:04
  • @Jodrell: the likelyhood of getting sued of something this small is tiny (to non-existing). I still think it's a pretty good idea to follow the law, 'though. – Joachim Sauer May 14 '13 at 11:06
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    Well, first of all, it's not plagiarism if you attribute it correctly. +1. – Esoteric Screen Name May 14 '13 at 13:42

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