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I see a developing copyright problem on DIY, which if not nipped in the bud could cause problems:


In an effort to help, the DIY answer community has at times made extensive use of images and text they did not create, and often without attribution.

Essentially all creative works, including images and text posted to the web, are covered by an automatic copyright, unless the author specifies something like a Creative Commons licence. Even then, attribution of the source is generally required, and often missing on DIY SE. It does depend a bit on the country, but not that much since the Berne Convention regularizes a lot of this.

Basic "fair use" conventions allow quoting copyrighted works for reference or for criticism, but not in a way that replaces the need for the original. An example of a replacement for the need of the original is: https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/39806/5960 . Where an original summary with a link to the NFPA would clearly be fair use, the full code section was quoted, and that would likely be over the line if adjudicated.

See also What's the guidance for including images from other sites?

In the case of codes & standards, the code organizations derive their funding from the sale of the code books. One can argue this model is wrong, but is presently the model. The NFPA for example has sued republishers of copyrighted code books multiple times (for example here's a complaint against Public Resource ). NFPA has responded to criticism by making crippled versions of the code available online, with the easier to use versions requiring a payment. Professionals are expected to pay, but everyone can read.

Beyond the above, when quoting code books, several dangers arise. A person may read the code quote without understanding which jurisdiction it applies to. And should a safety change take place, the DIY site will have old information (for example when antifreeze in sprinkler systems was found to be explosive).


In the case of illustrations, photos, or diagrams, the original author has the ownership of those works, and the right to place associated advertising. By "lifting" those images for Stack Exchange, that original author is deprived of those rights.

Global sites like Pinterest sidestep this issue by claiming they help people discover the original source of the creative work. DIY posts generally do not offer a link to the original, and often replace the need to read the original creative work. That's both contrary to copyright law, and doing a disservice to the original authors who are cut out from reaping the rewards of their labor.

  • See also meta.diy.stackexchange.com/a/935/5960 – Bryce Mar 10 '14 at 18:54
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    Brain turning to mush (long weekend), too much to read, what was the question here? – BMitch Mar 10 '14 at 22:49
  • This is not a question: this is outlining a problem. We're on meta, right? – Bryce Mar 10 '14 at 23:59
  • See also Is it OK to quote from NEC? – Tester101 Mar 11 '14 at 10:08
  • See also my answer about copying images here. [If I still owned the content listed there, I would give permission to reprint it here, but since it belongs to Stackexchange, I can't, but they probably would. Does this make sense?] – bib Jun 25 '14 at 13:09
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Just a couple of thoughts here and then I'll butt out.

  1. Use works you have permission to use, and always cite and link to the source.
  2. Stack Exchange complies with all DMCA takedown notices we receive. Additionally, we respect informal complaints from copyright owners and will happily comply with any requests for removal (or just for the addition of a citation).

We're not trying to claim a Pinterest-style loophole. We're trying to be good citizens by leaving bread crumbs to the original as clearly as we can, and fixing the problem promptly if the copyright owner gets in touch.

I think your point here:

Beyond the above, when quoting code books, several dangers arise. A person may read the code quote without understanding which jurisdiction it applies to. And should a safety change take place, the DIY site will have old information (for example when antifreeze in sprinkler systems was found to be explosive)

...mitigates your point here:

Basic "fair use" conventions allow quoting copyrighted works for reference or for criticism, but not in a way that replaces the need for the original.

...as long as we make sure everyone is aware that a) code books are frequently updated, and b) one should not attempt electrical repair or installation without a thorough understanding of those codes.

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    I think most troublesome are answers lifted from elsewhere on the web, and posted on DIY without attribution. – Bryce Mar 11 '14 at 21:23
  • (1) DMCA takedown notices are important, and of course the law. They place the burden on the copyright holder to notice the content has been lifted, and take action. (2) Typical DIY posts don't include a link to the current code, as such the typical and lazy case will be to undertake the project without checking. (3) See also meta.diy.stackexchange.com/a/909/5960 – Bryce Mar 11 '14 at 21:26
  • What steps can DIY take to ensure readers fully understand that code changes from time to time, and that undertaking a project based on a stale code reference could be harmful? – Bryce Mar 11 '14 at 21:42
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    @Bryce 2 things, first and foremost, link to the source, second and secondmost is update answers that are found to be out of date. If people undertake projects solely on information they find on the internet and can't be arsed to find out for themselves what current code is, then they're the ones who are responsible, not DIY.SE – wax eagle Mar 14 '14 at 15:29
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Veeck v Southern Building Code Congress Intl was decided in June 2002

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Case 99-40632

While the publishers appealed to the Supreme Court of the USA, their case was not heard.

This issue is taken back several links in a number places that go back to before the court ruling.

In several places, including here in the question, from 2014, the highest rated answers are wrong.


A person may read the code quote without understanding which jurisdiction it applies to. And should a safety change take place, the DIY site will have old information

This is Critical, and an answer needs to be found, and soon.

"text they did not create, and often without attribution."

  • True, State laws are just one example. Often code books such as the National Electrical Code are cited. 'The National Electrical Code', the just the name of a book with a copyright. We need to make sure that the law is cited. Just because something in the NEC does not make it law.

Very rarely do you see a City, County, Parish or State law shown as the source of the law.

As stated, and shown by example here, the DIY site may have old information. The information needs to show current law.

"A person may read the code quote without understanding which jurisdiction it applies to."

  • True, again law not code books need to be cited.

"I think the key dividing line is: does the answer preclude the need to read the original source?"

  • True, once again the original source law needs to be cited.

"Facts and knowledge are not subject to copyright, only patents can protect ideas. "

  • This is the overriding idea to all of the other comments. Laws are facts.

Information Kept Up To Date, so very important.

To the extent that the code books are involved. Any citation of a page number must be removed, unless a Library of Congress book number is attached, it is the only way to make sure that the books being mentioned are the same.

Since the books generally have a 3 year cycle, every 3 years any existing questions, as well as answers or comments to those questions should just be deleted. As, by definition, the information will be out of date. Individual items can be returned, after they are checked to make sure nothing in them, or that they reference are still accurate.

Disclaimer:

I make no claim to know the specifics of Bryce or his work, and incorrect use of it. I fully support his right to credit and profit from his creative work.

I honestly hope that Bryce posted this as a sarcastic joke. His comments, and those of others in the seem to come across as based in fact, despite being more than a decade out of date, and at times seem needlessly abusive.

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I think the key dividing line is: does the answer preclude the need to read the original source?

If you tell someone "your answer is in book X page Y" that's clearly fair use. You're supporting the original author even.

If you tell someone "book X page Y" says "do X and Y and Z", that's also fair use as long as you use your own words. Facts and knowledge are not subject to copyright, only patents can protect ideas. Minor illustrations from the source are fair use in the USA.

But when an answer uses someone else's diagram or words to completely answer a question, the original content author gets no credit, not even stack exchange reputation points! And that is territory where some DIY answers have strayed. The creator of the work gets no money, no recognition, no attribution, no stack exchange points, and they have lost control of their content which will likely be quoted again and again if it's good.

[Disclosure: as an author I've had my content repeated over the web. I've sent scores of DMCA takedown notices, and could send thousands more if it were worth my time, which generally it is not. It's like stamping out ants one at a time. UNESCO (the UN agency) even copied my material once, changing each sentence slightly.]

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