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This doesn't concern plagiarism, nor does it concern material that a DMCA take-down notice has been submitted for. It just concerns copyrighted, attributed content.


A few weeks ago, we had our first case of potential copyright infringement. A user posted this answer on the site, which contains a large section (the majority?) of somebody else's work. This work has a copyright notice on the top, which uses the words "All rights reserved". Permission has not been given for the document to be published on this website.

However, it is undoubtedly a valuable resource on the subject and, in this case, there is likely no other trace of it online. (It was sourced from an obscure post on Usenet in 1991, which cannot be found on Google Groups and may be lost forever.)

What should our general policy be on such situations?

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I think probably the best thing would be to just link to it and summarize the relevant parts in the answer. SE is supposed to be a Q&A site, not archive.org. I think its outside the scope of this site to provide a whole-cloth preservation function, regardless of how likely (or not) the info is to disappear from the Internet, especially for something of that length.

  • The trouble is, this already has disappeared from the web... – wizzwizz4 Jul 16 '16 at 17:44
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    ...I suppose we could try to contact the original author, and ask them to archive.org it... – wizzwizz4 Jul 16 '16 at 17:48
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I know this isn't the question you are asking, but the general policy for copyright infringement is described in section 15 ("Copyright Policy") of the Terms of Service. The upshot of the section is that people wishing to take down content because of copyright violations may contact the Designated Agent who will take care of the details.

Meanwhile the general advice for plagiarism can be found in How to reference material written by others:

Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. And always give proper credit to the author and site where you found the text, including a direct link to it.

However, the more pressing problem with this answer is:

PS: Stack Exchange answers seem to be limited to 30000 characters, so I have had to split this document into two answers.

That should be a signal that the author is trying to force a square peg into a keyhole. The code ought to be hosted somewhere besides an answer. (For what it's worth, GitHub also has a DMCA Takedown Policy.)

  • 1
    Should we try to contact the author of the document and ask them to host it / archive.org it? – wizzwizz4 Jul 17 '16 at 7:32
  • @wizzwizz4: You can try. Or you might provisionally host it on GitHub or some such. – Jon Ericson Jul 21 '16 at 14:17
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I don't think this is a suitable location to attempt to host the material. It is both unclear how material like this was sourced, and not a good fit for storing documents in general.

Personally, I would archive the material at somewhere like github, and clearly identify it as 'rescued', but not known to be abandoned. That both keeps the material fairly safe, and probably limits the distribution. Another possiblility would be to archive an encrypted copy - although I'm not sure there is real benefit in this approach (maybe other scenarios could justify that).

From a legal point of view, this particular document seems to have been published publically for anyone to read for free, so archiving it in full seems consistent with the author's intent. Archiving it would also potentially protect the author's interests if anyone attempted to plagerise the content - but I'm not sure if many people know what implicit or explicit licences were in place on usenet back then (and I'm not an expert in this area by any means)

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