Copyright Violation and Plagiarism Policy

What is the deal with plagiarism?

A very common question among WikiAnswers contributors is, "Am I allowed to copy and paste from another website that provides an answer to a question?"

In an ideal world, all of WikiAnswers would represent completely original content (search engines send traffic to pages that they consider original rather than duplicated from other sources). But realistically, contributors often research their answers; when they find a snippet of text that answers the question, it's hard to resist the appeal of simply grabbing that material and copying it into an answer.

Information posted on an individual's website is automatically protected by copyright. There is no need to register it or even put a copyright notice.

But that does not mean that contributors to WikiAnswers can make no use of that material. Copyright law does NOT ban outright all copying of other people's works. In most countries, you can make "fair use" of someone else's copyrighted works.

The "fair use" law varies from country to country. Sometimes it has other names, such as "fair dealing" in Canada.

Whether the contributor's copying from another website is "fair use" depends on a combination of the factors below. No one factor decides the issue.

In the event that an author or representative contacts WikiAnswers' management with a genuine, confirmable copyright violation complaint, the text in question will be removed.

Guidelines for copying and citing:

Below are the main factors involved in borrowing material from another party. These should guide your decision about when and how much to copy from other sources:

  1. Identical vs. modified passages. The easiest way to avoid an accusation of plagiarism is to modify the text by adding your own ideas, or changing the wording, syntax and/or order of sentences in a meaningful way. Changing one word here and there is not okay, but rewriting the idea is fine. It is not plagiarism to copy the idea, but it could be plagiarism if you copy exactly what the person wrote, word for word.
  2. Type of content. Factual material is less protected by copyright law than creative content. For example, it is ok to copy a list of the ten largest cities in the world. But it is illegal to copy a writer's entire travelogue of visits to the ten largest cities.
  3. Size of copied element. It is rare that the use of two or three sentences will elicit an accusation of plagiarism. Copying more than a paragraph or two is more problematic. The general rule is that the WikiAnswer should not be a complete copy of the content (a full section, page, etc.) in the source, nor should it represent the entire answer on WikiAnswers.

    It also should not be a copy of most of the other source. Copying half of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," or more, would be a problem.

    Likewise, copying a photograph into a WikiAnswers entry is not considered fair use. You are taking 100% of the other work by copying the picture.

  4. The importance of the copied element. Copying the most memorable or key elements of another work, could be considered plagiarism. For example, the United States Supreme Court held that it was not a fair use to reproduce 300 words from Gerald Ford's 200,000 word autobiography, since it was the most talked-about issue in his presidency — why Ford pardoned President Nixon. Similarly, copying a seven-second video clip of Humphrey Bogart saying "Here's lookin' at you, kid" is problematic, since it reproduces the most memorable few seconds of the movie Casablanca. If and when we provide the ability to embed a video from a third-party site that explicitly provides embed coding, we will explain the appropriate method of incorporating this medium into WikiAnswers.
  5. Impact on the potential market for the original work. If by copying a piece there would be negative impact on the market for the original work, it should not be used. For instance, you should not include a ringtone clip in a WikiAnswers entry (it's not technically possible, but you get the point) because the owner of the ringtone could normally sell that. Similarly, there could be a market for short movie clips so you should not include a downloadable Humphrey Bogart clip in your WikiAnswer.
  6. Cite the source. Finally, we would encourage you to cite the URL of the source, thereby giving writers credit for their original content.

WikiAnswers strives to be a resource for quality original answers rather than repackage content that originated elsewhere (regardless of the licensing policies of that website or publication). Please add Related Links to webpages containing applicable content rather than duplicate that information within an answer.

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