On our own Meta I've just highlighted something that happens with link-only answer on Ask Ubuntu: user posts link-only comment, reviewer uses an auto-comment to tell them off and the user copies the entire page into their answer... And that usually means the moderator has to nuke the answer from orbit.

It's a horrible paradigm because not all link-only answers are immediately useless (certainly not to the asker), and with enough time they can often be rewritten to create something transformative. My thread on Ask Ubuntu Meta is seeking to improve our pro-forma comment but this applies to the entire SE network and really is something people should be able to read about in the site documentation.

As a moderator and a reviewer I need to be able to point at something that explains:

  • Why we need standalone answers (links rot, etc).
  • Why we can't accept swathes of illegitimately copied text.
  • But also why some copying is great (compatible license or it's within fair use).

It doesn't need to be exhaustive but it needs to introduce people to concepts like fair-use and to point out what is and isn't acceptable copying.

/help/referencing would be the page I'd expect this content to have appeared but I'd happily see a new article just about Link-Only answers and how to improve them.

As Ilmari just suggested in response to my Ask Ubuntu Meta question, if it's too hard to talk about copyright accurately, should there be more focus on making users paraphrase things into their own words?

Even without mentioning copyright law, I think you could improve /help/referencing with more focus writing original content rather than copying. Perhaps a fourth bullet-point.

  • Well, that content is already in the FAQ: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/94022/… & meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/… You can simply link to those posts if you want.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:06
  • 1
    With respect to the MSO FAQ questions, it's not something that users on Ask Ubuntu see when they look in the site help. It also doesn't cover acceptable copying. In the case of a 1-line code sample, that's easy but when you're talking 10-20 terminal commands strung together, that's a lot more substantive and it's something that thought before being scooped around.
    – Oli
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:10
  • @Servy I've just reread what I'd written and I see what you mean. I did say I was looking for something to push people to but it's hard to beat the authority of the help pages on the same domain and if topics like plagiarism get this treatment, why not copyright?
    – Oli
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:25
  • The faq tag does have authority behind it. It's not like they're just two random meta questions.
    – Servy
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


For what it's worth, the relevant help page doesn't say anything about copyright because there's no "safe" way to copy - if someone wants to be an ass about it, they can go after you for copying a paragraph as easily as a page. Doesn't mean they'll win, but you can be pretty sure that everyone loses time and money waiting for a fair use ruling.

And that's ignoring the differences in copyright laws world-wide. And DMCA. Y'all aren't lawyers and neither am I - so frankly, the less said about copyright the better.

What we should focus on is plagiarism: this is not a legal issue, but a matter of etiquette, and one that I think is pretty easy to apply: we ask for attribution from folks copying stuff posted here, so we should extend the same courtesy to stuff copied to here. Some communities are more strict about this than others when it comes to the amount of text being copied, but at minimum you should always require that the original author is credited for his work. It's just good manners.

Now, for the link-only delete reason... It's pretty close already; maybe:

This link may answer the question, but answers that depend entirely on an external site can become invalid if the linked page changes. It is better to include the essential parts of the answer here (with credit given to the original author) and provide the link for reference.

  • I think wilfully ignoring copyright and hoping it doesn't bother you is much more dangerous than at least attempting to say "Try not to completely copy other people's content please!". I don't want Ask Ubuntu (or any SE site) turning into Buzzfeed (or Ebaum's World, for the older folks).
    – Oli
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:47
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    Why not ask the users to describe the most important points from the linked page in their own words? "It is better to paraphrase the essential parts of the answer here …" etc. Isn't that what we really want?
    – slhck
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:52
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    I'm not ignoring it, @Oli - I'm saying any advice I could write would be inaccurate at best. I'd rather focus on applying standards to discourage things we know we don't want - pages of shamelessly ripped off content - than trying to provide advice guaranteed to be misleading or unhelpful.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 16:06
  • I don't agree. I'm not sure what you think I'm suggesting. I think at worst it could be inaccurate, but at best it would provide just enough detail to make people consider their actions in a legal context. Either way, I've just edited the question to add a compromise: a highlighted focus writing things in your own words. That is already in there to an extent but it's right at the end and well out the way (and after an example that copies text). If you think any copying is risky, why not suggest no copying?
    – Oli
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 9:05
  • I like Ilmari's suggestion, @Oli.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 3:03

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