Back in the early days of the site, we decided that we didn't really care much for copy-paste answers, and especially not for plagiarism. They are, at best, half a step up from a link-only answer, and in many cases only tangentially answer the actual question asked. At worst, they run a high risk of copyright violation.

The current practice is to downvote posts which comprise little more than copy-paste from elsewhere, and to delete plagiarism on sight.

Despite this, copy-paste answers continue to not only be posted, but often get upvoted by the community without sufficient downvotes to counter them (purely from a reputation perspective, it takes five downvotes to counter a single upvote): this not only gives users the mistaken impression that such posts are welcome, but that they are in fact encouraged.

Over the last two days, I spent hours deleting blatant plagiarism from a variety of users; in many cases these were relatively new users whose posts were heavily upvoted. As many of these contained absolutely no downvotes, and no comments to the contrary, it is not surprising that these users considered this sort of behaviour acceptable.

This is not the impression we want to give, and it remains highly unlikely that a site with large swaths of copy-paste will ever become the sort of site which will attract actual experts. In my own (limited) experience, forums which are full of such are not the forums which are frequented by scholars.

Now that we've had a good…year and a half?…of actual site experience under our belt, I feel that a review of our current practices would not be amiss.

Is our current policy on plagiarism and/or copy-paste sufficient? Do we need to reconsider and/or modify it? Basically, I feel we need a discussion on the copy-paste issue and what, if anything, we should be doing (different or same) to deal with it.


4 Answers 4


Based on user activity, I often feel that there's a fundamental misunderstanding of how our current plagiarism policy works. Just because we explicitly treat plagiarism in a delete-on-sight fashion doesn't mean that something that is not blatant plagiarism is somehow fair game here.

Being fully blockquoted and properly attributed does not automatically make an answer good, useful, or welcome. It just means that it's no longer targetted as plagiarism, and is now capable of being judged on its own qualities (or lack thereof).

As far as I'm concerned, deleting plagiarism on sight is still essential to ensure that any votes a post receives are due to its actual value. But that still leaves the open question: What is the actual value of a properly-attributed copy-paste article?

It's important to remember that real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions. However, a third-party article is not an answer: It is an item.

An item can be immensely useful to an answer — many of the best answers on this site are full of them — but it is not an answer in and of itself. The person who wrote the article, the fatwa, whatever, was not writing it in response to this question. Things change, and while it may well be that the facts presented or the conclusion drawn would apply just as well to the current situation, that needs to be established by the poster.

Sure, the questioner now knows who wrote this article, but why should he care?

For the sake of judging an answer, a good rule of thumb would be to treat quoted material as if it was a link; if the post contains absolutely nothing but the copy-paste it should be treated exactly as a link-only answer (in other words, either deleted or converted to a link-only comment).

Downvoting bad posts is essential, not only to combat voting irregularities, but also to allow users to properly use the tools available to them: A high-rep user who can cast delete votes still cannot do so on a positively voted post, nor can a user with flagging privileges flag it as very low quality. Similarly, upvoting good posts is equally important, to ensure not only some degree of protection, but also that the best posts (and thus best users) are consistently raised to the top.

We as a site are not judging — nor are we even equipped to judge — the person who wrote the original article, we're judging the user who posted it. If that user provides zero actual effort to his own post in the form of actual content, that's exactly how the post should be treated.

If they have provided their own actual content to the post, again, that actual content is what is to be judged. If we get into the habit of upvoting and accepting posts because they happen to quote someone much better-spoken than the poster, we're just setting ourselves up for a site where the highest reputation (and thus most power) is to people who don't know enough of what they're actually talking about to even explain themselves in their own words.

If we want to attract the types of people who can actually write those well-spoken articles, we need to be judging posts accordingly. Vote early, vote often, but if you want useful quality answers, just make sure you're voting on actual quality and usefulness rather than agreement or disagreement.

  • Just tell me that how you can trust an answer while it is an original research (which you like it here) and you don't know the author? Do you judge it by your self? Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 18:42
  • @MohammadHossein The whole point of the Stack Exchange model is that all answers are under constant peer review by the expert community of the site itself. Building that expert community is essential during beta, otherwise the site will fail.
    – goldPseudo Mod
    Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 18:45
  • This is a good model. However, I reckon it is not possible! If every one is going to trust the site and the authors are not known by them, there is the only chance to let them trust the secondary references we use for our answers! Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 18:53
  • How fair is this specially in islamic matters that a person asks for the explanation of a 2 line hadees, and someone(in this case me) posted the proper fatwa of a renowned scholar of about 10/12 lines. Which perfectly explains that hadees. And i provide all required/related links for reference. And still my answer gets deleted... And i am sure neither can you nor can i give better explanation than those renowned scholars... than whats the issue? Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 6:26

Is our current policy on plagiarism and/or copy-paste sufficient?

No! It definitely is not. It's giving this site a really bad impression (way I see it). What's the point of having this site when somebody comes up and copy-pastes other sources, adds no or a minimal amount of comment. Whether we give attribution or not is not the point. You we need to ask is that what's the point of this site? How does it sets as apart? Are we a content-farm?

This trend should be curbed. It's very low-quality. And if it sticks around for long our ranking on a search result wouldn't even matter.


If the question i.e. what is being asked, isn't answered by the user in their own words with the analysis, reasoning, explanation, observation, guidelines and/or facts which are tailored specifically for that question and is rather a (large) swath of text thrown in (quoted or not, attributed or not) from elsewhere, so that the readers has to dig into it in order find it's answer (which it's not guaranteed to because a copy-pasted answer would rarely address the nuance of the question), then is should be deleted within the grace period or on sight (depending on what the community decides in the best interest of the site).


A user will comeback, giveback and own the site if they see that serious amount of effort is being put into answering questions on this site, the community takes the time to research and answer a specific question, and that every question is taken seriously.

A copy-paste answer will never bring that sense of quality and high standard to the site.

What if the question is genuinely answered elsewhere?

Even than do not copy-paste. Instead summarize that answer/text, tailor it in order to address that question and find other sources for more details. What you could then do is provide a short excerpt of what's stated elsewhere. Or just provide reference/citation.

Do we need to reconsider and/or modify it?

Yes! I was seriously mulling of adding my bit to Do we want cut-and-paste answers? seeing that it was a chronic case but was either procrastinating or diffusing the responsibility.

The current policy is too lenient and should be stricter in order to holdup the standards of the site. And that policy should apply to new and old posts alike. No bad examples. Get them cleaned up

  • I thought it was better to quote answers of a Scholar, than to formulate my own answer, even though it may be copy-paste. You deleted my answer here: islam.stackexchange.com/a/20068/8255 , and i copied from alifta.org/fatawa/… a site well known for answering such questions. As far as i know in Islam there is no harm in copying from an authentic source but in islam.stackexchange it is...! @Mujahid Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 7:00
  • @MohammedAli You could summarize the answer in your own words and quote only the relevant parts from the said source. You can post your own view as an answer to this discussion, if the community agrees with it then we could allow it. But for now it's not. And hey, do quote text you bring in from a third-party source (ctrl+q). Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:00

I believe that how we deal with copy paste answers (especially Answers which just quote another site) should be modified. They should still be downvoted on and commented, but if it comes to it could be locked as content dispute to prevent voting, or just deleted deleted.

I view copy and paste answers as low quality, and while back I wrote an answer to a question asking about a grace period for answers which do not provide required attribution, and whether the grace period applies low quality answers, and I believe it can. So if there is any modification to how we deal with low quality posts in general, and copy paste answers specifically, then I believe it should the grace period addition and then deletion.


The policies are clearly a work in progress here even after a year and a half. At least in my case a shoot first ask questions later approach was chosen. No effort was made to solicit a response from me before deleting the answer. The second time around a catch 22 comment was left. If it must be in the author's own words then it should not matter if the same is posted elsewhere. It is also strange to insist on the identity of the author in terms that are not defined in the stackexchage policies.

The quality of the answer must be of paramount concern. The rest of the policy should be formulated to ensure users get the answer they are looking for. A transparent policy must be adopted with proper due process. Delete on sight is censorship plain and simple.

If the moderators are struggling with a couple of questions and answers a day, what will happen when the site picks up speed?

  • 1
    We do have a completely transparent policy-making system (it's called meta) and we do have due process (it's also called meta). Take, for example, islam.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1051/22: If you post an article that you wrote that had already been posted elsewhere, in its entirety, without stating anywhere that that's what you had done, you can't be surprised if people treat it as being plagiarism. Especially when it was originally posted under a completely different name. We have no way of knowing who you're supposed to be.
    – goldPseudo Mod
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:20

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