For this site and in general for academic purposes: How can I use copyrighted stuff as material? If you can quote someone why can you not quote their work as well? The teacher in a previous class (not physics) told us not to copy word for word but to recall material in our own words. Does that bypass the problem with plagiarism and copyrighted material being used as an answer? Does that also mean I have to redraw an illustration or find one not copyrighted?


closed as unclear what you're asking by tpg2114, ACuriousMind, Kyle Kanos, user36790, Daniel Griscom Mar 30 '16 at 22:56

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    $\begingroup$ "The teacher said in your own words."...what teacher? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mar 20 '16 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ Is this about using material on our site, or using material in academic assignments? The whole "teacher said..." thing is very unclear. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Mar 20 '16 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind both $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Mar 20 '16 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 clarified $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Mar 20 '16 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Is this related to the two answers you deleted here after I pointed out that the copyright of the site you copied them from does not actually allow the use of their material in that way? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mar 20 '16 at 23:21

Plagiarism and violations of copyright are two different ideas.

  • Plagiarism is the use of another persons words or ideas without giving proper credit. It's an academic idea and a violation of academic ethics.

    Plagiarism is against the rules, and physics being an academic discipline, the users of this site mostly take those rules very seriously. You can expected plagiarized posts to be deleted. Moreover, you may find that some users don't approve of large-scale copying even when it is properly cited. That disapproval might be expressed in terms of down votes.

    You should note that long established physics is understood to be long established and you won't see users citing Newton every time they take force as proportional to acceleration, so there is a degree practicality to the application of citation rules. None-the-less, when there is any doubt you should cite sources.

    Certainly if you quote any material from a source directly you should (a) use quotation markup (begin lines with >), (b) report where you got it with a link and or bibliographic information, and (c) name the actual author.

  • Copyright violation Is the un-licensesd use of copyrighted material in a way not covered by the doctrine of fair use. This is at a minimum a civil violation of the law (and in some cases can be a criminal violation, though that seems unlikely to apply when we're talking about a Stack Exchange post even though IANAL).

    Posts that violate copyright should be deleted or edited to conform, and that can mean finding replacements for copyrighted materials that are in the public domain or covered by a permissive license (google advance search can help with that). In the worst case you might have to construct your own figure.

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    $\begingroup$ Hm, I'm not so sure about some of this. Plagiarism can be fixed by editing; if you ask me, it's not always necessary to delete the post. But copyright violations (if they somehow don't also count as plagiarism) should not be fixed by editing or deletion. They need to go through the DMCA process. Otherwise we might open SE to legal liability for the content of the posts here. And as a last thing, it might be worth a note that recreating a copyrighted figure (for example) is itself a restricted right under US copyright law. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 21 '16 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I don't quite agree that we should leave it to copyright owners to chase us to take down images; it is this site's responsibility to be a good internet citizen. If a site or author has gone out of their way (e.g. this) to restrict the use of their content in other sites, I contend it is our responsibility to use their content within the bounds they've set. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 21 '16 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Emilio well, this gets a little thorny because we kind of need the official word of a lawyer (which I'm not) to be sure, but I believe SE relies on the "safe harbor" provision of the DMCA in order to not be legally liable for the content posted by its users. One of the conditions of the safe harbor provision is that you don't check uploaded content for copyright violations, except when it's reported through the (very specific) process described in the law. Basically, a content provider like SE has to either take full responsibility for copyright, or none at all. (cont.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 21 '16 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ (cont.) For this reason, moderators have been instructed not to handle anything reported as a copyright violation. We can handle plagiarism, because that's a separate (non-legal) issue, but not copyright violation. Now, I don't think this restriction extends to ordinary users; you all are not representing SE, so you can handle a copyright violation (e.g. by editing) without making the company liable. But if the moderators tell you to handle copyright violations, then it's not so clear-cut. Perhaps in a legal context, that could constitute SE taking on copyright enforcement. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 21 '16 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ That's an interesting argument, but if it holds then I would say that if that's copyright law getting in the way of good internet citizenship then... well, I don't know. It sounds to me like the argument prevents SE itself from policing content for copyright violations, but I can't see how community guidelines would push the site over the line. Maybe it's a good question for law.se? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 21 '16 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I agree, the law doesn't work particularly well. To be fair, AFAIK it was written for companies like ISPs where you wouldn't have any community moderation to speak of. I would be interested to see what Law has to say about this. My hunch is that if the guideline comes from the community itself without moderator input, it'd be really hard to argue that SE becomes liable for copyright infringement. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 21 '16 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ Very helpful everybody. $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Mar 21 '16 at 14:13

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