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What is the policy, or preferred etiquette, with questions and/or answers that have been copied from other sites, such as this one which is a verbatim reproduction of a question and answer from reddit - (ostensibly) by different users.

  • Are they allowed? If so, to what extent?

  • Are there any copyright or similar concerns that may put lawSE at risk?

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  • @DavidSiegel You are thinking of the DMCA safe harbor provision. CDA § 230 explicitly doesn't apply to intellectual property: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property." That said, your analysis is otherwise correct.
    – Ryan M
    Nov 4, 2021 at 20:40

3 Answers 3

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Are they allowed? If so, to what extent?

If the author of the external source is the same as the author here then this practice is called "cross-posting," and the policies on external cross-posting apply.

Assuming, however, that the authors are different: No, they are not allowed without citations to the original. It's plagiarism. See How to reference material written by others in the help center:

When you find a useful resource that can help answer a question (from another site or in an answer on Law Stack Exchange) make sure you do all of the following:

  • Provide a link to the original page or answer
  • Quote only the relevant portion
  • Provide the name of the original author

For a question, especially one that has received a useful answer from a member of the community who spent time writing it, it may be best to simply edit the question to put the copied material in quote formatting and add attribution to the source (e.g., "I saw the following scenario on reddit (link to source) and was wondering if [insert legal question here].").

However, as in the example linked in this question where the evidence is that the author here is not the same as the one who posted the question to reddit a year earlier, I'd flag it for moderator attention so that it can be deleted.

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  • Without some extra information the problem we have in moderating these is determining whether they were "plagiarized" and not just "cross-posted." For the latter case I found this policy on cross-posting with non-SE sites.
    – feetwet Mod
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:44
  • @feetwet That's a good point. In this particular case, it seems quite unlikely, especially given that it was posted 11 months later and the user's profile says they live in Sydney NSW, Australia, not Oregon as the question claims. But in general, is there anything I could add to my answer to improve the advice? Suggestions or edits would both be welcome.
    – Ryan M
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:49
  • I think that example would qualify as the "extra information" that would justify a presumption of plagiarism. In which case your answer's suggestions sound good. Except I think it's better as a first step, when reasonable, to do the edit to note and link the source. Only flag for moderation if it should be deleted, or otherwise does "need moderator attention."
    – feetwet Mod
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:57
  • I just edited my notes into your answer.
    – feetwet Mod
    Nov 16, 2021 at 23:05
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Since stackexchange licenses all of its content from the creators, it has a reason to believe that the posters have the rights to license the content. Which means that the usc 17 504(c)(2) defense of being an "innocent infringer" will be available to stackexchange.

In a case where the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that such infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200.

If, however, stackexchange is presented with any evidence that the posters do not have author rights to their content, then that evidence would make the defense of innocent infringement less likely to succeed.

Stackexchange may still have a fair-use defense if the re-posted content can be so ("fairly") used. However, if the fair-use defense fails, the belief itself, that the infringing behavior will have been fair use, will not be a defense available to a for-profit entity, such as stackexchange.

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Posting someone else's words as if they were one's own without acknowledgement, is indeed plagiarism, whether it is copyright infringement or not, and should not be tolerated here. To that extent I agree with the answer by Ryan M.

However, when I was called on Wikipedia to deal with a suspected case of copyright infringement or plagiarism by an editor there, fairly often it turned out that some other site had copied from Wikipedia without acknowledgement, not the reverse. It is perfectly possible that someone copies a question from this site and reposted it on some other site or forum, without acknowledgement In that case the poster here has done nothing improper. In fact, I see several possible cases when a question (or answer) is duplicated here and on another site, assuming in all cases that the post is otherwise on-topic and appropriate here.

  1. The poster on law.se and on the other site are or seem to be the same person. In that case, the poster should be pointed at the policy on external cross-posting, and the post here should be edited to declare that it has been cross-posted, with a link to the other version.

  2. The post here seems to have been copied by a poster on another forum, who is apparently not the poster here. The post here should be edited as in case 1 to disclose the cross-post, but there is no need to notify the poster here because that poster has done nothing wrong.

  3. The post here seems to have been copied without proper acknowledgement from another place, by someone who was not the original author. That is plagiarism, and perhaps copyright infringement as well. The poster should be warned not to do that again, and the post should either be edited to acknowledge the source, with all quoted content marked as such using quote marks or block-quote syntax; or else it should be deleted here. In either case the moderators should be notified via a flag so that they are aware of the situation, and can suspend the user or take other measures should the same user repeat such action.

  4. The post was an external cross-post in compliance with policy, including the presence of a link to the other venue.

  5. The post here is a copy of a post from another venue, posted here with proper acknowledgement including a link, and using quote syntax to indicate copied text. The poster here is apparently not the same as the original poster on the other site. The poster here should be pointed to this discussion and any relevant policy. The community should discuss on meta, or possible the mods in a mod chat, whether to delete the post here. If the original post was under a CC license, or some other free or permissive license, that should IMO weigh toward keeping the version here.

If a user here sees a post that duplicates (in whole or in significant part) a post on another site, without acknowledgement but is not sure which of cases 1-3 above it fits, it would be a good idea to flag it for the mods, along with as much reliable info as the user has available.

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