In a discussion on Scifi Meta, I wrote an answer explaining that any quotes must be acknowledged as quotes and cited:

Word-for-word copying is only allowed as evidence / supplementary material, and even then must be properly quoted and attributed.

A quote should never be a full post, attributed or not, and presenting it as one's own is strictly forbidden.

Someone recently posted a comment suggesting (as I interpret it) that this doesn't apply to content in the public domain or under a creative commons license not requiring attribution:

Well, if the original post is marked with a public domain or creative commons license, it shouldn't be a problem.

You can see my response:

I'd still expect users not to present public domain work as their own, and especially not as the entire post. If a good source can be identified, that should be cited; if it's all over the 'net, the post should at least acknowledge that it was from widespread public-domain content.

But (much to my surprise) I couldn't find a policy to point him at that explicitly addresses public domain work, so I would like to clarify the network's position on explicitly requiring users to present public domain works as a quotation and not their own.

So for the purposes of presenting this as a discussion, should users be required to present public domain text and text licensed in some manner not requiring attribution as a quote and not their own?

1 Answer 1


I think two issues are being confounded: copyright and plagiarism.

From a copyright standpoint, if a work that I use but which is not mine is in the public domain, then there cannot be a legitimate copyright infringement claim against me, no matter how I use the work.

From a plagiarism standpoint, if I take parts of the work and pass them as my own, then I've plagiarized. The fact that the work is in the public domain does not matter one bit. One common way to mark passages as being someone else's work is to quote them either with double quotes or with a blockquote and indicate the source.

The same is true if the work is covered by a license that does not require attribution. The fact that you can use it without attribution means that if you do not provide attribution, this omission is not sufficient to give rise to a copyright claim. (Whereas in a case where attribution is required, the omission is sufficient to give rise to a copyright claim, because you are in breach of license, even if you respected all other conditions.) It does not mean that quoting without attribution is somehow not plagiarism.

Plagiarism is not tolerated anywhere on the SE network.

  • 1
    Well put, and a good distinction to make explicit.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 18:35
  • 3
    Bingo. I apply the same standards here for plagiarism that I would in an academic paper. Quotes above a trivial length must be presented as such, with attribution. It's not a license issue, it's one of giving credit where it's due. Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 19:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .