I have a small issue to be answered. What are the boundaries and scope for copyrights at Math.SE ? . To explain further, suppose I have described a new idea in the question, what if someone copies and use the idea ?.

Similar situation, suppose if I present some new way of solving a problem and posted the answer, and others have used it. What is the situation then ? .

I am not after recognition and fame, but there will be some body who feel bad doing so. So I asked this question for general purpose. Please do clarify my doubts.

Thank you.


1 Answer 1


Much of the comments to this answer at meta.MO will apply. In particular, let me plagiarize myself:

  1. In terms of "copyright" (as stated in your question title): the answer is either not safe at all or completely safe depending on your interpretation. As discussed in the FAQ, by posting on [MSE] you agree to license what you wrote under a CC license, which means that anyone can legally copy and republish what is written, provided he gives proper attribution.
  2. In terms of "academic priority", it is generally understood that MSE is a public forum with timestamps. So it would be very foolish indeed for someone to plagiarize what you wrote here.

See also the link to "attribution required" and to "cc-wiki" at the bottom of every page, as well as the stackexchange legal page.

  • $\begingroup$ What happens when the users have a proxy name ? , should one indicate those Proxy names ?. $\endgroup$
    – IDOK
    Jun 18, 2012 at 16:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ IIUC legally copyright doesn't apply to ideas but only to fixed expressions of ideas. I don't think posting on MSE is considered publication, it is more like an informal discussion by people interested in math. I don't think people would consider it plagiarism if someone uses a similar solution in a paper. The issue regrading MO is quite different IMHO. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 18, 2012 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh What do you think is different on MO? $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2012 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill, it is way more likely for a researcher to check MO to see if there is a similar result than MSE, MSE is not a standard place for checking if a result is already known. If I write a post in my publicly readable blog about something does it mean I will be cited for the it? For almost all blogs the answer is no. There are established venues for publication and MSE doesn't seem to be one so far. On the other hand researchers have been citing MO posts for more than a year in their papers. This is the difference I see between MO and MSE: $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 18, 2012 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ 1) is it expected from a mathematician to check MSE? 2) is MSE accepted as a publication venue among the mathematicians? I would check papers in standard journals, arXiv, and probably MO posts for what I am working on. I might check with some experts working in the area to make sure it is not already proven well-known folklore result among the experts. Checking MO is similar to these, probably more to the later. That is what the community expects from an author. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 18, 2012 at 18:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh SE content is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.5. This is completely independent of MO. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2012 at 19:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Bill, as I said above, ideas are not copyrightable! and the question is asking about ideas. So CC BY-SA 2.5 is irrelevant (e.g. if I restate the idea in my own words). The comments about MO was in reply to your question in your comment above and the original one was because Willie referred to it in his answer. It seems to me that the OP is confusing copyright with credit for ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Jun 18, 2012 at 19:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh There are plenty of examples throughout history where the first published proofs of theorems were in obscure places, e.g. Kronecker's proof of an important theorem at the basis of ideal theory - which Dedekind later rediscovered - his "Prague theorem", a generalization of Gauss' Lemma. MO is no different than MSE in this regard. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2012 at 19:33
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh I strongly disagree. I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2012 at 19:53
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh, you write "as long as it has not passed peer-review no one is going to cite it or take it seriously". That is simply not true. If the posted proof is discovered to be correct, people will take it seriously, regardless of whether it has been formally peer reviewed. (I say that as the author of a paper that cites an offhand comment of Bill Thurston on sci.math as an indisputable primary source.) $\endgroup$
    – JeffE
    Jun 19, 2012 at 4:13
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @user1729: in your example there is no difference between first publication in MSE or first publication in Annals of Mathematics. An offhand remark stating that "X maybe of use in proving FLT" is not a proof, no matter how prestigious the venue of publication. In other words, if it ain't plagiarism when published elsewhere, it ain't plagiarism when published here; and conversely, if it is plagiarism when published elsewhere, it is also plagiarism when published here. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2012 at 9:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user1729: Extant? no. Unlikely? probably. Impossible? I think (hope) not. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2012 at 10:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user1729 But the answer to math.stackexchange.com/questions/111164/… which is original and may or may not be entirely new, is certainly new enough that neither an expert in the field (Pete Clark) nor an amateur generalist (yours truly) have seen before. And it has certainly been "plagiarized" with permission from the OP. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2012 at 10:23
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Dear Kaveh, One's obligation as an academic is to be honest and as well-informed as possible. If you know of prior work relevant to what you are doing, or that you work builds on, you have to cite it. You should endeavour to find about such work, within reason. If you later learn about such prior work after you announce or publish your own work, you have to retrospectively acknowledge it (although it is fine to mention that your own work was done indendently). As others have said, no-one expects you to scour the internet looking for previous work. But if you become aware of such work, ... $\endgroup$
    – Matt E
    Jun 19, 2012 at 14:31
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ ... on MathSE, MO, someone's blog, or any other forum, you have to take it into account; you can't pretend it doesn't exist. It's no different to learning about prior work published in an obscure journal. (Note, by the way, that if you weren't aware of prior work, by definition you are not guilty of plagiarizing it; but you will lose priority claims that you may have been making prior to learning about it.) Regards, $\endgroup$
    – Matt E
    Jun 19, 2012 at 14:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .