See Why is the oil future price negative? and Why do people buy negative interest rate bonds? The first question is the second most upvoted on this SE, the second is easily in the top 100. The most upvoted answer to each question turned out to be a lightly edited version of texts copied from other places. You can easily find them googling some of the more peculiar phrases, also the poster said as much after they were confronted with the issue.

There are several questions that arise:

  1. Is copy pasting answers (with or without light edits) a legal problem? It is my understanding that SE answers fall under a Creative Commons license.

  2. Does this SE have a non-legal problem with copy pasting answers (with or without light edits)? One could argue that the information is still useful, it still had to be found etc. The only reference to plagiarism I found on our meta was here.

  3. If this is problematic, is there any possibility for automatic screening? (Such as Urkund.) I originally upvoted both answers without researching if they were original.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I originally upvoted both answers as well without checking them for plagiarism - I am really sad to hear that the user did this. Beside asking whether it’s legal we should also ask if it’s ethical. Even if this kind of behavior would be completely legal I don’t think we should support it. I am not necessarily saying that we should follow the same strict standards as in academia for referencing but we should require at least making proper attribution to the source. If we will just tolerate blatant plagiarism then we risk this site to be just collection of excerpts from other places. This is sad $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 8:56
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ By the way I also found some relevant references to plagiarism in the help center (1) and on general meta (2). The meta post recommends first trying to educate the user and suggest edits if its only single incident and if it repeats or if the plagiarism is very bad it recommends flagging it for moderators attention. (1) economics.stackexchange.com/help/referencing (2) meta.stackexchange.com/questions/160071/… $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ According to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/160071/…, we're supposed to flag it and the moderators are supposed to do something about it. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ @KennyLJ Did you just plagiarize the comment above your comment? Should I flag yours? Also, see this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, if it'll help to soothe some of your anger. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 9:46

2 Answers 2


We disapprove of asking multiple questions in one :-), although admittedly they are closely related.

1) I am no lawyer, but in principle anything you put out there is copyrighted as far as I understand, although there are such things as fair use. Blatantly copying, though is certainly not fair use. So if one just copies a complete answer from one site to another with minor edits that would be infringement of copyright. The least we should ask for is an attribution. The only possible exception is if one is the author of the original post.

2) I have no non-legal problems with answers occuring in multiple places if one is the author or one attributes correctly. As you claim, the information is still useful and different people use different sites to find answers.

3) It is certainly possible, but I think the real question is do we want it, and if so, how do we implement it? Let alone the question who pays for it?

In fairness I think that per question 3 it is unlikely to happen, even if we want it. I also have no idea, how we would otherwise enforce the policy of attribution. We can hardly ask everyone to cross-check for plagiarism before up or downvoting, let alone that we ask our mods to do it. Perhaps a flagging system is an option, but then still the question remains who will do the flagging.


I will focus on the second point. There actually already is a Economics.SE policy on plagiarism. In its help page the Economics.SE states that:

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.

When you find a useful resource that can help answer a question (from another site or in an answer on Economics Stack Exchange) make sure you do all of the following:

  • Provide a link to the original page or answer
  • Quote only the relevant portion
  • Provide the name of the original author

Moreover, on the general Meta site they seem to offer additional guidance. The top voted answer there recommends that if the user is new we should try to educate them on the policy and edit the question for them. For repeated plagiarism we should flag the the answer to bring it to the attention of moderators.

It is also advised:

Important: Don't be a lynch mob, even if you're (understandably) angry. Do not pile downvotes on recently uncovered plagiarists' answers, as this might trigger the serial voting script. Let the moderators handle it - they will destroy any occurrences of egregious plagiarism, and may suspend the user for a while.

I think this also suggest the way forward as I agree with @MaartenPunt that the automatic check will most likely not realistically happen. It seems that we have to be more vigilant in the future about this.

  • $\begingroup$ "It seems that we have to be more vigilant in the future about this." We meaning the approximately 70 people, most of whom are casual visitors, who upvoted the answer? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Giskard no I mean we the Economics.SE regulars - clearly mods are allowed to remove plagiarized answers so if we will be vigilant we can prevent these answers to stay long enough to become hot and attract casual viewers outside Economics.SE. If I see long post without any attribution I will from now on always try to run it by google - to be honest until you brought this issue up it did not even occurred me that happens... $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think the point of editing the answers for the user makes sense, especially if the answer is valuable anyhow. Just add in attribution and if the user does plagiarize a third time, one of us mods will intervene. $\endgroup$
    – Kitsune Cavalry Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 14:39

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