Since I've become an editor, I've mainly been your friendly neighborhood typo fairy, tidying up misspellings as I've run across them. I've also talked with a few newbies and have hopefully left warm, fuzzy edification in my wake.

But occasionally, I turn large and green and go on a hunt for cut and paste writeups, because I take plagiarism seriously. So far, the vast majority of my nukes have been C&Ps that I've discovered.

Cut-and-paste writeups -- writeups that are mainly composed of text the poster has copied verbatim from a book or website, with or without the addition of hardlinks and formatting -- really make me and other editors see red and lunge for the "nuke" button. Why?

  1. It's seen as being lazy.

    Some schools of thought here say that anything you post should be your own work and your own words, and they feel that anything else deserves a downvote.

    My own personal philosophy as an editor is that if you properly cite your source, have copyright permission, (see below), and properly format the writeup, any piece of writing that provides quality entertainment or valid information is a worthwhile addition to the database.

    Note that I said valid information. Just because you find something on a website that sounds cool doesn't mean it's accurate. What are their sources? If they don't cite any, be wary. Of the C&P writeups I've seen, solidly half of them have been parroting advertising copy from dodgy commercial sites. Don't seek to reprint a piece just because you think it'll take too long to do your own work -- make sure the piece truly is better than what you could do before you bring it here. Respect the database. Don't propagate misinformation.

  2. It's seen as being deceptive.

    If you post someone else's article under your own username without proper attribution, you're trying to pass that work off as your own. That's insulting to both the voters here at E2 and to the person whose words you've stolen, and once you've been caught doing this, your reputation here is close to ruined. Just don't do it.

  3. It's plagiarism.

    Even if you cite your source, if you don't have explicit permission to repost the piece you're using, it's still plagiarism. Permission is everything here. It's like the difference between knocking on a stranger's door and asking to use their phone, and just jimmying the lock and going on in to use it when you find they're not at home. At best using other people's writing without permission is rude; at worst it's a crime that could potentially get E2 sued.

Now, having said all that, there are three instances in which you are allowed to post other people's writing here at E2 without it being considered outright plagiarism, provided you properly cite your sources.

  1. The work is not and never was copyrighted.

    Unclassified documents published by the U.S. federal government are not copyrighted; anyone can republish them for nonprofit purposes as long as the source is cited. Other sites (state governments, non-profit orgs) may allow the free copying of their materials with citation. However, don't ever assume that just because you don't see a copyright notice on a site, it isn't copyrighted. Always assume you need permission unless you see something stating otherwise.

  2. The work has fallen out of copyright and is now in the public domain.

    In general, materials written by authors who died at least 70 years ago have fallen into the public domain and can be freely copied by anyone. People often look at the date the work was published, assuming anything written before 1923 is public domain, but this isn't always the case. Make sure nobody's updated the copyright before you repost it; if you're working with a book, check the copyright page for notices. The author's death date is a better guide than the publication date.

  3. The work is offered for free reprinting via a Creative Commons license.

  4. You have gained permission from the author.

    In this modern age of email, most authors are contactable. Read something cool? Don't just post it -- ask the author first. If the article's been reprinted elsewhere on the web, and you send the author a polite message, chances are good they'll give you permission to use their work. Make sure you emphasize that E2 is a noncommercial site -- nobody's trying to make a buck off their labors.

    But if they turn you down, don't get upset. And if they don't reply, don't just post the piece anyway, assuming they'll never know the difference.

    Permissions should always be sought, but they do get difficult if the author's no longer there to communicate with you. And more fundamentally, there's no longer a creator's livelihood at stake, though the estate might certainly growl and make lawsuit noises at infringements.

Once you're sure it really is kosher to repost the piece, you need to cite it properly. Otherwise, an editor will eventually notice that the piece is on X website and might assume it's cut n' paste, and nuke it without a second glance. Using regular term paper-type citations doesn't work here, because those imply you've put the information from your sources into your own words; if you're copying someone else's writing in its entirety, you need to make that clear.

If the piece is in the public domain, add a citation like this:

This writeup contains public domain text written by Dead Author and taken from

If you have permission from an author, or if a site gives global reproduction-with-citation permission, put a citation, right at the beginning of the writeup, that says something like:

Written by John Doe and used with his permission.

Written by the U.S. Social Security Administration and used with permission.