The standing policy on mathoverflow.net is that it is not the community's job to enforce copyright. See http://tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/313/

On Stack Overflow historically, moderators have removed links to copyrighted material whenever such have been made known. See flazx downloads: legal?

It is not clear what policy should be followed on this site.

Please consider, among other things:

This question grew out of the debate here over a moderator's action on a particular offer to provide copyrighted material in digital form. Read responses there for additional background and perspectives if you wish, but please confine discussion of the broader policy issue to this thread.

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    $\begingroup$ You have failed to cite the discussion from the previous thread, and you have not noted the issue that was raised about offers to provide such material through other channels. This thread is a poor alternative to the discussion that was going on in the other thread, and I think it's a little insulting the way you've tried to kill the original issue. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Aug 10 '10 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @97832123: The question is community wiki. Feel free to edit in anything you think belongs there. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Aug 10 '10 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ It was wrong of you to close the original thread, man. I don't want to have to retype all of the arguments just because you're too stubborn to admit you were wrong to close it in the first place. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Aug 10 '10 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ It seems fairly clear (even to an outsider like me who's seeing this for the first time) that this question is irrelevant to the thread that spawned this, which was about a private offer to contact someone over email, not a "link to copyrighted material" hosted on this website. It is fine if you want to discuss this question, but somewhat disingenuous to portray it as being related to the original one (or to not discuss the original question separately, if it's still unresolved). $\endgroup$ – ShreevatsaR Aug 10 '10 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ShreevatsaR: No, the threads are clearly related $\endgroup$ – Casebash Aug 10 '10 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ @casebash: conflating different meanings of the phrase "to make available" does not count as relating the two threads. There is one legal question for which K.H's position is clearly right (SE hosting pirated material), one for which it is clearly wrong (SE publishing offers to exchange copyrighted material), and one for which MO explicitly doesn't enforce and for which it is unclear that there are any legal implications if math.SE were to decline enforcement in the same way. $\endgroup$ – T.. Aug 10 '10 at 22:39

This is a new question of no relevance to the copyright issues that were raised earlier. It muddies the waters by conflating three separate copyright issues:

  1. There are legal constraints on what can be made available on math.SE itself (that is, as downloadable material hosted on stackexchange.com, assuming it is a site in the USA).

  2. There might or might not be significant legal constraints on what can be linked in math.SE discussions (externally hosted downloads). This would depend on many factors including differences in laws between countries.

  3. The actual math.SE matter that prompted this question was about whether offers to provide copyrighted material privately, through channels not directly involving math.SE, are a problem either legally or under the SO or MO policies. The answer appears to be that it's a total non-issue. Quoting from the other discussion:

'... one crucial difference is that posting a link places math.SE in the "action path" of a legal violation (the downloader normally clicks on it through math.SE) while posting an offer to engage in such a violation if contacted by other channels, does not. Until and unless there is legal advice that the latter activity jeopardizes SE's operations, or math.SE becomes a major piracy enabler on the radar of DMCA lawyers, shutting down such postings is gratuitous volunteer policing: self-censorship.'

It would be good for those who think that such private offers do raise legal issues, to explicitly address #3 in its own right as a separate question from #1 and #2.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. I'm not a lawyer, but while 1. is illegal in many countries, 2. is not known to be illegal even in USA with the draconian DMCA, until one receives a notice to remove the link. And 3. is entirely a non-issue; overzealously and repeatedly editing out others' comments over it seems to step beyond the bounds of what's required by moderator actions, and as you say, is gratuitous volunteer policing and self-censorship. $\endgroup$ – ShreevatsaR Aug 10 '10 at 17:05

Our content policy states

Copyright. Using copyrighted material does not constitute infringement in all cases. In general, however, users should be careful when using copyrighted content without the permission of those who created it. It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA").

SO's current stance, which should apply here too, can be summarized from the answer by @Joel Coehoorn in How to deal with questions or answers plagiarism from copyrighted sources?:

  1. ... he [the moderators] doesn't know that the copyright owner would want it removed.

  2. ... flagging copyrighted content is pointless. As moderators, we can't make the decision to remove content or not on behalf of the copyright owner.

  3. ... to anyone who might read this after finding their own content infringed by a StackOverflow user, please just e-mail team@stackoverflow.com and I'm sure they'll be happy to remove it for you.

Of course, this does not mean you could ignore copyright laws or abuse what you think is "fair use" and share restricted materials to everybody. That won't make this site look good. Please include unauthorized copyrighted material only if it is necessary for the post.

(IANAL, YMMV, etc.)


One new thing that has occurred recently is that some replies have incorporated images of extracts of copyrighted material. These aren't hosted on math.stackexchange, but are links to third-party sites. However they do appear automatically when visiting a thread; they don't have to be clicked on, so they appear to be coming from MSE.

Are we confident that posting such images poses no danger to MSE?

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    $\begingroup$ What does up-/downvoting this answer mean? $\endgroup$ – Rasmus Oct 1 '10 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Fair use is meant to allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission in order to facilitate informed discussion. There's a lot of trickiness and uncertainty in the various laws about where fair use crosses into copyright infringement, but non-gratuitous excerpting (in all of T..'s #1-#3 situations) is basically safe. It is bad for science and culture if people are timid in making justified exercise of fair use excerpting. $\endgroup$ – Charles Stewart Oct 4 '10 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks Charles, but what are the limits of fair use/excerpting? A recent posting here contained the majority of a copyrighted paper (I'd say almost all of it). Does that constitute fair use? $\endgroup$ – Robin Chapman Oct 4 '10 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Robin: if there is a way of posting non-automatically-loading links it can be used in circumstances where posters are timid (though this should not be encouraged) or if site management has a real reason for legal concern. Even a crude solution such as placing blank spaces or dummy characters into a URL ("http addr. com") would allow the information to be posted without suppressing posters' ability to circulate the links or readers' ability to follow those links wherever they may lead. $\endgroup$ – T.. Oct 4 '10 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Robin: Quoting from the US Copyright Office: "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission." Of course, I'm not a lawyer. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Oct 5 '10 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaestur: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is not a good approach to these questions, and neither is pre-emptive editing and locking of postings. Now that the closure of 978's "secret volcano" posting that prompted all this discussion has been shown to based on unfounded (or rather: incorrect) legal speculation, what prevents you from unlocking it? $\endgroup$ – T.. Oct 5 '10 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @T..: Absolutely nothing. But as far as I know, I haven't been asked to do so. If someone would be willing to write an explanation of the referenced material, or add something else informative, I'd be happy to unlock it. I'm not sure what you mean by your first two sentences though. I, at least, wouldn't call locking a post that had gone through so many reversions pre-emptive, and I don't know where you're seeing the FUD. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Oct 6 '10 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaestur: 978 has asked that you reopen the posting, and my current discussion with you can also be considered a request. We ask only that the posting reach the "unlocked" state, which is a more modest request than having any person reach a "happy to unlock" state. $\endgroup$ – T.. Oct 6 '10 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard that the AMS/MAA refused any reasonable request. Even for-profit publishers grant most reasonable requests since it is free advertising. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Oct 6 '10 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaestur: so ... why is it still locked? $\endgroup$ – SamB Oct 21 '10 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ Related to the problem of including images of pages: here and here. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 24 '13 at 6:49

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