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Over the last couple of weeks there has been a growing number of answers that are unabashed copy/pastes of entire posts from sources around the web. These have generally been pointed out in the comments under the answer as such, but I wonder if this is the ideal way to handle blatant plagiarism.

This Meta question on the subject from a decade ago outlines some thoughts on how unattributed copying should be dealt with, such as:

  • editing the answer to include a link to the source
  • removing the answer as it's someone's attempt to take credit for another person's work

A case can certainly be made for both of these options.

Ideally, it would be great to have a way to flag these sorts of posts so that an answer could be examined for plagiarism by multiple people and voted upon, much like is done for other types of actions:

zOMG, You Guys! Blatant Plagiarism!

It is unlikely that the Stack Exchange development team will invest the time into something like this if it hasn't been enough of an issue, yet.

So, getting back to the question, what is the policy for dealing with plagiarism? Should the source link be edited into the answer? Should the source link be added as a comment in the hope that the creator of the answer will edit their own post? Should the answer be flagged for moderator intervention? Or is there a better way to handle this?

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  • The other way around happens as well btw. Found several answers of mine all over the web, posted on websites with no contribution whatsoever. Oct 26, 2021 at 17:29

1 Answer 1

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There are a few slightly different cases here:

  • The post is copypasta with a spam link added <---flag as spam
  • The post is verbatim copypasta with nothing added <---flag for moderator attention*
  • The post is copied but links to the source (a sign of good faith)
    • if the source is a post on Stack Exchange (or there's an indication at the source that a Creative Commons license applies), you can add proper attribution:
      • quote-format the copied text
      • link to the author's profile and name them
      • link to the original text as well
    • if the source is elsewhere and there's no sign of permissive licensing at the source, I tend to decide what to do based on the length of the post. If it's reasonably short you might want to comment asking the author of the post to consider re-writing the post in their own words or rewrite it yourself accordingly. If it's a great long post I suggest flagging it for mod attention.
  • The post copies the text from another answer in an attempt to say that the answer worked or did not work (the post author adds some cryptic text: pageful of existing answer with messed up formatting did not help me, please help) <---flag as NAA

* What will mods do if you flag the post? We'll probably delete it and contact the author to tell them not to plagiarize any more. Generally it's considered a pretty serious abuse of the site.

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    I haven't seen the copy/pasta with a spam link yet, but thank you for letting me know to flag for moderation. I've generally viewed that option as a "This is pretty serious and needs an adult" option, so try not to use it liberally.
    – matigo
    Oct 26, 2021 at 5:20
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    @matigo we love mod flags. Without the vital vitamin F they provide, mods lose their mojo
    – Zanna Mod
    Oct 26, 2021 at 5:23
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    @matigo speaking as an ex Ask Ubuntu mod and current U&L mod, "mod attention" flags are simply the catch-all category: if, as is very often the case, none of the standard flag reasons match, just use the mod attention one and add a message explaining why you are flagging (this is essential so we can get the context). They are not "stronger" or more serious flags, they're just the broad, general category.
    – terdon
    Oct 26, 2021 at 9:23

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