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An answer on Stack Overflow was recently brought to my attention as possible plagiarism, but I determined that the source of the suspected plagiarism was actually written and posted by the answerer elsewhere and later copied over to Stack Overflow verbatim.

The question Do we have a policy about self-plagiarism? seems to cover the opposite scenario, where someone might want to copy their Stack Exchange answer onto another SE question or elsewhere on the Internet.

Is this an acceptable practice?

I am assuming:

  • That the answerer has permission to post the answer here, either because they never gave up the rights to the content or they have retained enough rights to also post it here.
  • That the answer is at least minimum quality and makes an effort to answer the question (that is, it's not simply a rant from the answerer's blog, or random ponderings with nothing to do with the question asked).

In response to Anne Daunted's question, no, they did not disclose that they were copying over content that they had previously written and posted elsewhere. It got brought to chat as a possible plagiarism to be flagged. I investigated and declined to flag, commenting instead that it looked ok enough to not be flagged for summary deletion by a moderator. Instead, I decided it would be best to leave it to voters to decide how useful it is.

While this question is inspired by something that happened on Stack Overflow, it belongs here because it is relevant to every site, and there is no obvious reason that such a policy is or should be different across the network.

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    Did the answerer make clear that and where they had written the answer before? Sep 23 '19 at 20:29
  • @AnneDaunted no they did not. It got brought to chat as a possible plagiarism to be flagged. I investigated and declined to flag, commenting instead that it looked ok enough to not be flagged for moderator attention. Instead, I decided it would be best to leave it to voters to decide how useful it is. Sep 23 '19 at 20:29
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    Can we trust the votes? There are two conflicting answers. Aug 3 '20 at 14:22
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Yes, this is acceptable. Attribution isn't even necessary in this case; the related Help Center article only deals about content written by other people. To prevent confusion (like in the case you mention) it's good (but not obligatory) to have some indication that the content was posted before.

Except in cases where the author somehow sold their copyright to an external party, they will always be allowed to post their content somewhere else. This includes reusing an answer you posted to one Stack Exchange question on another one (on the same site or a different one). Of course, it's almost always better to tailor the answer to the question at hand, or instead (if appropriate/possible) flag/vote to close the question as a duplicate.

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    just to clarify, why do we need licenses if no attribution is necessary (even within the site)? Sep 24 '19 at 16:35
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No, this is not acceptable. One's own published work should be treated in the same way as any other external source: selected, relevant portions quoted with proper attribution, & not copied wholesale. There's an expectation that answers on SE constitute original work.

If proper attribution is not given "readers will be deprived of the citation trail—not giving proper attribution is bad scholarship even when not infringing copyright" [Scortchi, https://stackoverflow.com/c/moderators/questions/1542/1549#comment3706_1549]. Moreover, SE users, including moderators, will not, in general, be able to confirm the identity of another SE user with the original author; nor should they be put to the trouble of trying to.


After all, what are the positive arguments for making an exception here? If it's all right to lift an answer in its entirety from your own published writing, then why not from someone else's (assuming you're not infringing copyright, & give due credit)? What would be the harm in letting readers know where you first published something you're repeating verbatim in an answer on an SE site?

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