This answer features a bunch of blockquotes, with text that came copy-pasted from another website. The text was presented with a link back to the original material, but something about it just doesn't seem in line with what is expected on this site.

It's certainly a good idea to keep the relevant information contained within this site, so that the question does not become unexpectedly unanswered when URLs become invalid. On the other hand, is blockquoting the best option in terms of respecting copyright, preserving the data, and writing a well-formed answer?


Link-only answers, even if the content is blockquoted, are discouraged.

It's usually better to link and paraphrase an external webpage. If you really want to blockquote it, then you should:

  • Sum it up in your own words
  • Possibly have some addenda

Generally, the webpage doesn't really answer the exact same question, so you can write a "wrapper" for the blockquote, that fits it into the question.

In this particular case, I think it's OK, but I would prefer if there was more of his own text.


I agree that the blockquotes are rather extensive in this particular example, but they should still be covered under fair use (I'm guessing US jurisdiction applies to SE sites), if that's what you're mainly worried about.

@embedded.kyle did sum up the content from those two quotes, so he's technically done the "right thing". But I agree that his answer could have done with a lot less text, mostly because the quotes didn't add much detail to his recap of them.

It's a bit of a balancing act because we also discourage link-only answers. In general, it's probably best to sum up a source but provide a link to it and quote only where it substantially improves the answer

  • $\begingroup$ I guess the followup question is: if we edit the text that's blockquoted, at what point can we unquote it? $\endgroup$ – Ian Dec 6 '12 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ The answer did appear to be a copy of the entirety of the significant content of the web page linked to. I don't think that would be considered fair use. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Dec 7 '12 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ What do you think is the best way to improve that answer so it's not an infringement (or so that it's more appropriate for the style of this site)? $\endgroup$ – Ian Dec 7 '12 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it would be considered infringement, not that I have any expertise on the matter whatsoever but, as far as I understand it, he only quotes relevant bits. Both original articles are a lot longer. That said, I'm not happy with the answer either. I'd say, the HowStuffWorks bit is fine, since he's summing it up and just quoting it to give a reference. So the same should probably be done with the interview. Also, on a quick glance, I'd skip the quotes and only read the OP's bits, which at the moment would leave out a lot of detail. $\endgroup$ – ThomasH Dec 8 '12 at 0:26

If a website doesn't grant you rights to reuse it's content then you are technically violating copyright to re-use that content elsewhere. Doing this might have consequences, both direct and indirect.

In the worse case, a site like How Stuff Works could ask Stack Exchange to remove infringing content.

At the other end of the scale, contributors might just get annoyed with a site which hosts infringing content and refuse to promote or support it. This could potentially lose us some valuable contributors, if their first interaction with our site is someone ripping off their work.

In most coses, linking to the original site (providing attribution) and only quoting portions (fair use in some countries, including the US where stack exchange is hosted) of the linked to page which are needed to answer the question should be sufficient. Wholesale copying of the entire (significant) content of a page on another site really should be discouraged though.

As an aside, one of the main reasons I stick to quoting from Wikipedia is that their content license is compatible with the license of content here on stack exchange:

  • $\begingroup$ Due to DMCA and all that, it's fine if you post it, SE only has to take action if a DMCA notice is filed with them. So there are no consequences, really. But it's better to avoid the matter entirely :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth - The point I was trying to make was that there are potential non DMCA consequences of using copyrighted material, such as annoying and thus driving away the very same expert roboticists we need to make this site the best it can be. Thus encouraging link and summarise is this a much better policy than encouraging link and plagiarise. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Dec 9 '12 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Of course; just pointing out that there are no legal consequences :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 10 '12 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth - Although unlikely, a DCMA takedown notice is a legal consequence. It is backed by law and in theory, a failure to act on it could (technically) lead to legal action. Anyway, we should continue this in Robotics Chat if necessary. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Dec 10 '12 at 12:22

Tricky one...

StackExchange is always fighting other sites that blatantly rip-off SE content... so it would be hypercritical for SE sites to rip-off other site's (and even sites' before I get hauled before the EL&U crew) content.

Also, there was a case a few years back (IIRC it got to the High Court, in the UK) about one new-site copying content from another, even with attribution!

Having said that, small quotes, with correct attribution is usually considered OK under fair use (IMHO bit IANAL)

A SE answer should be a proper researched answer... copying and pasting someone else's work is rarely such, and the answerer may not fully understand what they are posting. I suppose the correct approach would be to contact the other website BEFORE POSTING for permission to use their content... maybe then the original author maybe able to answer the question better than anyone else? Although that is not often practical or realistic!

At the end of the day, common sense should be the guideline... both by the poster, us the community, and ultimately the moderators. I'm sure I'm as guilty as others in quoting...


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