See this question (deleted since)it's a verbatim copy-paste of a question asked somewhere else 4 years ago.

A law enforcement officer is investigating a case. The officer takes clues such as photographs and pieces of paper and pins them to a wall or cork board. Yarn or string is stretched between some of the pins to indicate a relationship between those clues. What is this investigative process or technique called?

Although it does not seem to go against ELU rules, I feel uncomfortable that op did not reference the original source. It's dishonest.

My gut feeling would be to flag it for deletion (clicking "other causes" as suggested), but for what would be the reasoning for deleting exactly? How does it hurt ELU or anybody that a question was plagiarized?

Any argument for or against it?

  • 1
    The standard way to deal with plagiarism, which occurs much more often in answers, is to flag it for moderator's attention. Ref meta.stackexchange.com/questions/160071
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 9:35
  • I read that, but it seems to me that the policy was clearly intended for answers.
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:18

4 Answers 4


The reason why you would flag the question is to help maintain the quality of the questions on the site (and tangentially our community's reputation). If a poster is unable to phrase their question in their own words, they are probably unable to respond to requests for clarification or otherwise engage with their question and the folks answering the question. I would see it as an attempt to farm reputation, which I think should be discouraged.

There may very well be ethical and legal concerns, but I think they are secondary concerns. What if the original author comes to EL&U and finds their question "stolen" word for word? Do you think they'll want to be a contributing member of the community? Who would likely be the more valuable member of the community - the original author or the plagiarizer?

If the question had referenced that question and the poster added "I found this interesting question and it didn't have any suitable answers on the other site - I did this research but I still couldn't find anything." I think it would be perfectly fine to leave it. Most free community sites require you to allow certain uses of your contributions, so it is different from, for example, plagiarizing a self-published blog. You still have to attribute the content in most licenses though.

  • 3
    This exactly enunciates the reason plagiarised content is deletable. It's not just the copyright infringement (if there is any; copyright isn't generally our concern anyway); it's the misappropriation of others' work and the inability to react to queries about it. You can't just pass something off as your own.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:29
  • 3
    When I see a copy-and-pasted question like the one being discussed here, I wonder if someone isn't trolling for rep points. In other words, "I can't think of a good question to post on ELU; let me go find one." If this was a true "actually problem that you face," then I'd expect the question to be paraphrased and contextualized; however, people fishing for points wouldn't bother to do that.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:10

Edit: As for whether or not plagiarism hurts the site, I have three issues with it:

1) It's not good for the site. As you say, it's dishonest. It's taking credit for other people's work, and it makes us look bad.

2) I've often wondered if people who plagiarize questions verbatim are just trying to accumulate rep points. It doesn't feel like the question is based on an actual problem that they face.

3) In cases where a good answer is already provided at the original site, why waste people's time here formulating an answer to a question that has already been adequately answered?

If someone thinks the question is interesting enough that it ought to be archived on ELU, that's fine, but at least paraphrase it, and point to the original to give credit where credit is due.

As for how to flag it, why not flag it "in need of moderator intervention," and let the mod team decide what to do from there?

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  • @P.Obertelli What do you mean you don't know why? It's both copyright infringement and plagiarism! What possible reason would there be to not flag it if you become aware of that? Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:20
  • I think people are missing the point of my question, I mean "why" because all posts or guidelines I found on plagiarism are about answers, here it's about a QUESTION (I'm not shouting , just replacing unavailable bold by all caps). I'll rephrase: "why is it bad to plagiarize a question?" He's anybody hurt by that on this site, even if the OP use the answer to answer on the other site, so what? For an answer I understand that the person who made the effort of researching wants his attribution recognized, but for a question...I'm not sure, who's being hurt?
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:31
  • 1
    @P.Obertelli Because it's both illegal and dishonest? It's exactly the same, whether it's a question or an answer. That's how copyright and plagiarism work. They don't suddenly stop applying to questions. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:39
  • Now some things may be too short and trivial to be copyrightable, but not a whole paragraph like you quoted in the question above. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:40
  • 3
    @P.Obertelli I don't think it's about "who is getting hurt"; it's about controlling the quality of the submissions on the site. I could go copy and paste other people's questions to the site but I wouldn't be able to respond to comments for clarification or otherwise engage with the question. If someone can't write their question in their own words, I would assume they're just trying to farm reputation or something. Also the TOS says you license all of your content under the ShareAlike license - I don't know that you can do that with other people's content from another site.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:41
  • @curiousdannii Jaywalking is illegal in some places but if you see someone doing it in an empty street a Sunday morning with a kilometer visibility on both side you're not going to call the police to report it, are you? I don't even know if it's copyrighted, but in this case the plagiarism brought some people on this other site I never heard of before, and it brought some attention to a question, so the original questioner may have an answer. In short, the original questioner, the new one, and the original site don't seem to be hurt by this. Is ELU hurt ?
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:00
  • @P.Obertelli Both copyright infringement and plagiarism would be considered both legal and (usually) moral wrongs. There's nothing trivial about passing off someone else's work as your own, and it doesn't matter whether it is known by the original author or whether they feel hurt or not. Go down that road and you might as well throw away every law and just sue for damages when you feel hurt. The rules on every site in the Stack Exchange network are clear: no plagiarism. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:03

Without a doubt, I can tell you that plagiarism is bad, and it does go against our rules (which are network wide). The Help Center addresses this specifically:

Plagiarism - posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own - is frowned on by our community, and may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted.

(The wording reflects the fact that most acts of plagiarism are answers, not questions.)

The correct action depends on context.

In this case, it doesn't seem like it was in good faith. My experience with plagiarism is on Stack Overflow, and the reasons I see for doing this range from spam (cleverly disguised spam may live longer than blatant spam) to avoiding new user restrictions (and post-bans).

Mod flagging was the right action here. For more information, see What to do when plagiarism is discovered.

  • 1
    @P.Obertelli I wasn't trying to be condescending, and I even up voted this question. I can try to reword that part.
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 14:51
  • Thanks. Comment retracted.
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 15:21

I typed up an answer for this, but unfortunately, it seems that the question has already been removed. Judging from OP's reluctance to flag it 1 hour ago and JR's screenshot, I'm guessing it was him. This is disturbing on a moral front. This question was intended to discuss whether the question in question should be flagged. It was not intended for others to flag it without thought. I am disappointed in this outcome, as I would have liked to see the answer to the question, if there was one.

Here was the answer I had:

I wouldn't flag it because it's not a substantial theft. Yes, that is subjective, but there's no ideal way to approach this. It's not creative property; it's merely describing a situation. Think of Wikipedia, which is all released freely and legally permitted to quote without sourcing. Although this is frowned upon socially, there'd be no basis on which to report it. I'd treat this question in the same way, although I am not aware of metafilter's policies.

Additionally, if the question was not answered on another site, and the reader wanted an answer, all he can do is repost it elsewhere. It would be fine if he sourced it, but it would simply add irrelevant information to the post and make people visit another site.

In short, it is always good to create new discussion, and that's all I see here, no mal-intentioned plagiarism. I find that a flag would be frivolous and would halt/remove discussion that may have led somewhere.

  • 4
    "Think of Wikipedia, which is all released freely and legally permitted to quote without sourcing." No that is completely wrong. If you want to use content from Wikipedia then you have to follow the terms of Wikipedia's license. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:19
  • The requirement is merely a link where possible or a list of authors. This, perhaps, could/should have been applied here, but the question was whether the post should've been flagged just for violating that, and my answer does not change. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:35
  • 5
    This is the license for Wikipedia. It is most definitely not a link where possible. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:38
  • 2
    For the record, I did not flag the question "without thought" – I flagged it after some deliberation because it was plagiarized. I stand by my action and don't see how I committed a "moral" faux pas.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:04

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