I sometimes see people answering a question in the comments and then being asked to convert their comment into an answer, however in some of those cases someone comes along and sees that answer and in a really obvious way copies and pastes the answer from the comments into an actual answer (this is not to be confused with someone commenting with a potential solution which somebody else also thinks of and writes as an answer - normally you can spot the different because one is a copy and paste job, and the other is clearly written by a different person in a different way), and then I often see downvotes cast on the answer even if it is a good one, and I also see sometimes people getting upset because someone stole their answer.

So what is the correct course of action to take when it is very obvious that someone has just stolen the answer from someone else who was going to post it as an answer? Should one just ignore these instances and not be one of the downvoters who casts them only because they think what the person did was unfair, and not because of the quality of the answer? Or should anything be done?

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    Could you please clarify how it is possible to 'steal' an answer under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license? – Tobias Nov 13 '15 at 11:42
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    @Tobias By not providing attribution, for one. – muru Nov 14 '15 at 12:36
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    @muru that hardly constitutes 'theft', but let me rephrase my question: How can someone steal that which you do not own? When someone posts in the comments, the content is licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. When Stack Exchange doesn't require attribution when subscriber content is being used on-site - how can this ever be theft? – Tobias Nov 14 '15 at 16:35
  • @Tobias violate the conditions of a licence, then its theft. The content is licenced to Stack Exchange, but the user remains the owner. Stack Exchange does require attribution. Who said it doesn't? – muru Nov 14 '15 at 16:44
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    @muru The content is irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange - which effectively means you don't own it. Having read stackexchange.com/legal a dozen times, I understand that any content another user has added to the site, may me modified, reposted elsewhere on the network etc. without attribution. It specifically mentions attribution for reposts off the network. – Tobias Nov 14 '15 at 16:49
  • @Tobias Stack Exchange is not the owner, as it cannot relicence the content under different terms. I can, to someone not already covered by the licence. You should also read the related questions on Meta Stack Exchange. Your understanding is flawed. – muru Nov 14 '15 at 16:51
  • @muru I have not once said that Stack Exchange is the owner. I don't appreciate you pointing out that my understanding is flawed, and then not caring to explain to me why you think so, that is not at all useful. My question still stands. How can re-posting a comment as an answer ever be considered 'theft' on a network such as this? – Tobias Nov 14 '15 at 16:58
  • @Tobias It is implied when you said "The content is irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange - which effectively means you don't own it." The answer remains the same: by not providing attribution. – muru Nov 14 '15 at 17:00
  • @Tobias Your understating is flawed, as is evinced by your repeated assertion that the user isn't the owner of the content they post. That is false. Irrevocable licences are not transfer of copyright. There ToSs which require that, Stack Exchange's is not one of those. – muru Nov 14 '15 at 17:02
  • @Tobias I still think you should check Meta Stack Exchange. Content ownership and licencing has been discussed before, though I don't think I've seen a post discussing attribution requirements. – muru Nov 14 '15 at 17:20
  • @muru put aside ownership for a second then, as it is completely irrelevant once you've irrevocably licensed Stack Exchange to use it. You can not demand that Stack Exchange ever remove the content. In fact, the only thing you can demand, is that they remove your name. Now with this is mind, how can it ever be considered 'stealing' your content when Stack Exchange then, through a user or a robot or whatever, moves your content, modifies it or perhaps even lists it in 'Hot Network Questions'? You have licensed Stack Exchange to do just that. – Tobias Nov 14 '15 at 17:39
  • @muru You've linked that twice, and I'm not sure what you want me to read, but I went ahead and read: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/18221/… - I don't see how this makes me 'wrong'. I don't see how ownership is relevant at all once you've licensed Stack Exchange to use it, for ever. – Tobias Nov 14 '15 at 17:40
  • @Tobias Ownership is important for attribution. I don't see what the revocability of a licence has to do with attribution requirements. When it lists a question title in the HNQ, a) they're linking to my content, which has so far been considered permissible fair use, and b) my post remained attributed to me. In case you haven't understood the point of linking to Meta Stack Exchange, let me spell it out: it's a Q&A site. Ask a question. – muru Nov 15 '15 at 5:29

What I do is:

  1. Warn the commenter that his answer is being stolen

  2. If the commenter cares and answers the question accept that answer and vote it up. If he does not: stop caring too and accept the stolen one.

  3. If the original posts an answer, leave a nice comment below the stolen answer like this:

    It is considered rude by our community to steal someone else's comment and convert that to an answer... To remove the negative reputation points, [edit] your answer, give a different solution, and drop a note so that I can review my assessment of your answer. Alternatively, [delete] it altogether and the negative reputation points will be reversed automatically by the system. (I do this too for answers that give me negative reputation points) **;-)**

And then downvote the stolen answer!

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    lol downvote the shit out of it that made me smile. – Neil Nov 12 '15 at 6:50
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    Aww... @kos edited this answer and made is more boring... :( :P – user364819 Nov 12 '15 at 16:54
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    @ParanoidPanda, Fabby, come on guys, you know that it couldn't stay there, and that if not me it would have been someone with a hammer. Someone had to make the unpopular decision and have the herd on them. – kos Nov 12 '15 at 20:54
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    This is not the correct answer. muru's answer is correct. If someone else posts it as an answer oh well. It's not particularly nice, but the commenter made the conscious decision not to post it in the answer section where it belongs. If someone else does it.. their loss. We need answers in the answers section! And in my experience only about half of commenters ever come back to do it properly. Someone needs to do it. – Seth Nov 12 '15 at 21:51
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    I disagree: For difficult/complex questions I use the comment section to do investigations and when I have a final answer, I'll post it. – Fabby Nov 12 '15 at 22:13
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    @Seth I must say, in many cases, indeed comments are needed to make sure the (upcoming) answer actually fits the question. It definitely happens that people jump in and post the answer when the "dirty" work is done. Actually stealing the answer before the real answerer had a reasonable time to come to a conclusive answer. IMO not good for the site, not good for the atmosphere and not good for the quality of an answer. It provokes people to post premature answers. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 12 '15 at 23:41
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    @Tobias it depends on the situation. I am not sure about the order and timing of things, but clearly, not much work is involved in your link, the comment could easily have been posted as an answer immediately and the commenter was asked to convert his comment into an answer. Quite a different situation. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 13 '15 at 10:36
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    @Tobias if your answer and the comment were about the same time, I don' t see how your answer can be a "stolen answer" at all. If your answer was "invented" by you, it is irrelevant if it is (already) in a comment. I am referring to situations in which people obviously spend a considerable time to a) get the question clear and b) obviously are working on, or finishing a good answer. It definitely happens (luckily not a lot) that someone jumps in then, posting an answer he or she couldn't have produced without the work of the commenter. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 13 '15 at 10:57
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    @JacobVlijm How can the reasoning or thought behind someone's answer be of relevance at all to anyone reading the answer or the site? Why would you downvote the answer if I'd read it in the comment section, but not if I'd read it on Google? Does it really matter who gets their name on the answer? Any valid answer should be better than no answer. – Tobias Nov 13 '15 at 11:09
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    @Tobias personally, I wouldn't downvote an answer if it is a good one, for the sake of the answer. To state who's name is below an answer doesn't matter at all is hypocrite. It at least plays a role in the motivation to create good answers. Actually, the whole reputation system is based on it, be it in a more indirect and abstractive way. I am pretty sure making answering completely anonymus would make the site die away in a week. Also, I am referring to situations an answer was being prepared, but someone jumps in, knowing a (the) answer was ready to be posted. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 13 '15 at 12:32
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    @Tobias Usually not the revenge kind of person, but I think the discussion is more on whether copy- paste existing comments as an answer is a useful thing or not, when it is clear the poster of the comment is planning on creating an answer after having gathered enough information, yes, via comments. I don' t see any other contribution in it but the contribution of the poster to himself. I think however we' re getting in a loop here. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 13 '15 at 14:10
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    @JacobVlijm surely the contribution is in making it visible. It's a contribution as much as editing the formatting of an answer to make it easier to read. So long the commenter didn't post it as an answer, the answer isn't there as far as people reading the question are concerned - adding it as an answer is a contribution, no matter who does it. 'Punishing' such acts are not beneficial to the site or the community. This is my reasoning for downvoting this answer. – Tobias Nov 13 '15 at 14:17
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    @Tobias: What I do is leave a comment to the original poster of the comment: "Could you convert that to an answer so that I can upvote it or another comment if you're not interested in posting one and I'll do it for you" (some people being very busy sometimes) If after 24 hours you get no response: feel free to steal the comment and convert it to an answer. If the poster then comes back and complains, leave another comment that you'll delete your answer after the original commenter has answered regardless of the upvotes you've received... – Fabby Nov 14 '15 at 9:51
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    Additional comment: If I find an answer where someone clearly states that the answer IS stolen, I'll downvote the stolen answer and upvote the "original" regardless of acceptance. – Fabby Nov 14 '15 at 9:56
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    Why downvote the "stolen" answer or paste in that long response when you could just add the attribution to the answer? – Jorge Castro Nov 18 '15 at 0:07

Nothing. The commenter should have posted an answer instead of messing around in the comments' section.

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    True, but only if the question is simple and well written! If it's unclear or complex, you need the comments first! There! :P – Fabby Nov 12 '15 at 22:14
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    @Fabby if it led to several comments to solve the problem, posting an answer often is not just a copy-and-paste job. – muru Nov 12 '15 at 22:17
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    I've had it happen to me... When you're trying to get your first 100 rep, it's a real pain in the you-know-where! – Fabby Nov 12 '15 at 23:25
  • Edited my original to make it clearer. Better now? – Fabby Nov 14 '15 at 10:01
  • @Fabby I didn't downvote (or upvote) your answer. :P At any rate, I grant you (and anybody reading) complete licence to "steal" any answers I may post in comments. :) – muru Nov 14 '15 at 10:19
  • You know that I'll keep asking you before I steal it anyway... (and yes, I did downvote yours... If that hurts your feelings, leave a comment and I'll remove the downvote. ) – Fabby Nov 14 '15 at 14:32
  • @Fabby Nah. No worries. :D – muru Nov 14 '15 at 14:36
  • It doesn't matter if he made the mistake of commenting the solution. He made a solution. – userDepth Nov 22 '15 at 21:13

I have a fundamentally different thought to the accepted answer so I will leave this here as a counter-idea to each of those points:

  1. One of the greatest features of SE is the ability for anybody to edit and improve content. Invoking the word stealing makes no sense to me and in fact we should be encouraging people who grab the hot mess that is in comments and bothers to make something answerable and peer-reviewable. If you're posting usable information in the comments then that actively hurts the site because it can't be voted on, please see: Please stop posting half answers and dumb advice as comments

  2. I think leaving a 70+ word diatribe on why stealing is wrong is counterproductive, you can just add the attribution yourself if it means that much to you, if it meant that much to the person who posted the comment they would have left an answer.

You're also making the claim that taking that information and made it better is stealing. I for one contribute here so that everyone can steal my stuff and make it better, that's the entire point! So all in all, maybe more "hey don't forget to attribute!" is a much better and positive way to reinforce behavior instead of "thief, downvote them!".

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    Not sure if you are referring to my 70+ words comment(s), but grab the hot mess that is in comments and bothers to make something answerable and peer-reviewable and making the claim that taking that information and made it better is stealing are obviously not the situations I am referring to. No doubt that is very usefull. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 18 '15 at 8:43
  • It feels faint however when working on fine-tuning the question/answer, someone passes by and smacks a roughly formatted answer on the site, stealing, or "borrowing" the concept of what is obviously the upcoming answer. Downvote? As mentioned, I wouldn't. Probably even edit it if it needs additional information or improvement. The subject might be overvalued however. In 567 answers, I only remember a few occasions that it happened. – Jacob Vlijm Nov 18 '15 at 8:43
  • What you're talking about is an existing answer and improving answers is what this site is all about: I agree. Taking someone else's grunt work and converting it to an answer is something else... When I see it, I leave a note to the comment's OP and if he doesn't care, and the answer is good, I'll upvote. If the OP posts an answer, I'll leave that comment above and upvote 1 and downvote the other... – Fabby Nov 18 '15 at 9:30
  • The user is always right. Stop badgering the site's idea and listen to what is the concern. Users want to reward the most helpful peer and that's clear. – userDepth Nov 22 '15 at 21:18
  • @user3005629 I don't understand what you're upset about, if you want to reward someone upvote their content. – Jorge Castro Nov 23 '15 at 3:18
  • 100% spot on. +1 – Seth Nov 25 '15 at 18:08

This may not be popular and I think that this only applies to me - I'd not speak on behalf of others. I just recently posted a comment (I figured it was the solution but I like to check in the comments where applicable) and, shortly afterwards, a person took my comment and turned it into an answer.

Now, they also phrased it in their own words and they also gave some detailed information concerning the process. Also, had the answer worked, I'd have just linked them to a prior answer given that gave more information as I didn't see the question as valuable enough to write a full answer.

The thing is, I'm okay with it. Don't get me wrong - I'd not advocate that people do this, as a general rule, and I'd not suggest that others should be of the same opinion that I am. What I do feel is important is that I don't do it for the points, I do it because I'm here and learning already and this helps me to learn.

I do it because it's a way to give back to the community. I do it because, while I've had Linux installed on a second partition for years - I've never taken the time to really get to understand it as well as I feel I should.

That said... I think it is rude to do so to people who are not share the same views I do. I think that it is impossible for them to know that I hold this opinion and so they should not do this. While I personally do not mind, I'm quite sure that I'm in the minority. I think people should work to be polite in a community and that includes not pirating answers.

Personally, I don't mind. Just because I don't mind doesn't mean that others shouldn't mind and the default should be to assume that the act is unacceptable.

Additionally, if I've left a comment and not turned it into an answer in a reasonable time then, by all means, write it up as an answer so that the OP can find it more easily and so that future visitors can find it!

I'm not sure that I've articulated this well but I think it's different enough to warrant adding this as an answer. This doesn't mean that I disagree with the other answers - just that I personally don't mind if someone does it to me.

My goal is, first and foremost, to learn/adhere to the rules of the site while getting the user the best help they can get, in a timely fashion. My apologies if this is not expressed well.

  • "and, shortly afterwards, a person took my comment and turned it into an answer. Now, they also phrased it in their own words and they also gave some detailed information concerning the process" how do you know they 'took' it from your comment? Sounds to me more likely they also knew the answer and felt confident enough to go straight to an answer. I have never seen a case where anything substantial was "stolen" from the comments and put into an answer. Usually when this happens it's because the answer is obvious to more than just the commenter. – Seth Nov 25 '15 at 20:32
  • @Seth It was close enough to that (them knowing the answer) that that works for me. As I mentioned, it doesn't even remotely bother me - personally. So long as the user gets a hand, is able to solve the problem, and the result is a fine answer then I don't care who wrote it or if they used my help to get there. It showed up suspiciously afterwards but the answer was fairly obvious. The only reason I'd even bothered to ask the question (instead of just linking to a prior answer) was just to ensure that it was the working solution. The points aren't all that important to me nor is the credit. – KGIII Nov 25 '15 at 20:46
  • @Seth I should also add that I'd only discovered this question because a user in chat had indicated this was being discussed on the meta site and I'd just had had that happened and found it rather amusing. :D I almost didn't comment as I figured it was fairly well covered but I thought that I'd share how I felt or would feel as it was slightly different than what was already included as answers. I'm more concerned with the users getting help and getting good answers out there than I am with the points. I can always edit posts and get points if I want 'em bad enough. – KGIII Nov 25 '15 at 20:49

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