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I've seen the following problem a few times.

  1. Alice posts link-only answer.

  2. Bob reviews the answer and posts the following pro-forma comment:

    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes.

  3. Wanting to comply, Alice copies entire page into answer.

  4. Angry moderator Cthulhu sees this and deletes whole post for copyright issues.


Many people don't understand copyright. I'm not going to flog this out because I've just done it but it's something we have to respect when we're asking users to do things. I think the current comment could be encouraging people to copy and paste without thought.

There are a few concepts we need to get across in this comment:

  • We need standalone answers (links rot, etc), but
  • We don't want swathes of illegitimately copied text.
  • Some copying is fine, either because it has a compatible license or it's within fair use.

What's the best way to accomplish this?

Normally speaking I'd suggest we linked to the relevant help page but it's pretty thin on the concepts of copyright and how that fits into all of this. That half of things is a network-wide issue so I'll start a separate question on MSO.

But for now, can we collaboratively come up with a better comment that communicates what we want without encouraging copyright infringement?

3
  • Maybe we need to change the link to another meta post about this? How about "How can I use information I found somewhere else in Ask Ubuntu as answer?"?
    – Braiam
    Feb 5 '14 at 14:58
  • @Braiam Yeah that doesn't sound like a bad idea as a stop-gap and ideally there'll be something in the site /help/ that covers this one day we could swap out for.
    – Oli Mod
    Feb 5 '14 at 15:03
  • Essentially people should paraphrase the link.
    – don.joey
    Feb 6 '14 at 15:20
4

We should not try to cover every detail and possible edge case in the comment; that would just produce an unreadable mass of words. So here's what I propose (changes in italics):

While this link may answer the question, it is better to paraphrase the essential parts of the answer here in your own words and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes.

IMO, there's no need to explicitly mention that sometimes verbatim copying is OK: people will do it anyway, if they think it's the reasonable thing to do (and sometimes they may even be right about it), and in any case, a paraphrase is nearly always preferable to a copy-paste dump, anyway.

Besides, if, in a particular case, the commenter wants to specifically recommend quoting the linked page verbatim, they can always edit the comment to say so.

1
  • Yeah, this is nice. I've just added the focus on "paraphrasing" and "own words" to my suggestion on MSO. Thank you.
    – Oli Mod
    Feb 8 '14 at 8:44
1

Paraphrasing

While this link may answer the question, it is better to paraphrase the essential parts of the link in your answer without infringing the original author's copyright (for instance, by copy-pasting his/her entire text). In case of doubt about the copyright of a text, please raise a question on meta and/or contact the author.

Alternative

While this link may answer the question, it is better to paraphrase the essential parts of the link in your answer without infringing the original author's copyright (for instance, by copy-pasting his/her entire text). In case of doubt about the copyright of a text, please raise a question on meta where Oli will answer it for you and/or contact the author. He can also make a nice drawing of a unicorn if wanted.

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  • 2
    People won't get the unicorn part..
    – Seth
    Feb 6 '14 at 17:51

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