tl;dr We're all guilty of posting unattributed content from the internet/eBooks etc from time to time, but do we have strong enough guidelines to deal with issues when they arise.

Quite often when I see questions/answers here on Chem.SE, they contain content that is directly photographed/screenshotted from external content (i'm guilty of doing this too, before its pointed out).

A lot of the time, this material has came straight from google (i.e. is readily available already on the internet and as such I see no huge issue with it being re-posted here, though we could all be better with attribution) however on occasion I see content clearly not in the public domain (as an example, see THIS very well discussed question, which has screenshots from a fairly expensive book which the poster has downloaded illegally- the watermarks are still visible).

This material seems to often fall into two categories:

  1. Screenshots from books that shouldn't be in the public domain/are clearly pirated
  2. Questions typed out from books with the poster looking for answers, or even questions from Universities that are not in the public domain.

I'd never really considered this a huge issue, however I was in conversation with someone who was in the process of writing a solutions manual for a book from which questions/screenshots have appeared here, and he expressed his significant frustration that this material was getting banded around with people clearly neither buying the book nor the solutions manual.

For discussion:

a. Do we think theres an issue considering the minute amount of content posted as a % of an entire book etc? (though arguably over time, there is a cumulative effect).

b. If a copyright owner wants material taken down, how can they best do this? to my knowledge there isn't really a mechanism on stack exchange for this other than flagging posts / editing them and including some kind of 'image removed' copyright notice.


  • $\begingroup$ I have taken a closer look at that question you linked (which I was not aware of), and I'm not sure I can remove the content without destroying the question completely. I will think on it further, though, because I definitely do not want to encourage posting material that has been obtained nefariously, either. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Jul 17, 2016 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks of the reply. I wasn't looking for anyone to actively deal with that question, it was more a discussion of the fact that I hadn't realised that people not on Chem.SE actively know about Chem.SE (which I guess is a good thing...) but the implication of that is we should perhaps in future be more careful with whats being posted. $\endgroup$
    – NotEvans.
    Jul 17, 2016 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ related: meta.chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/230/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jul 17, 2016 at 15:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NotNicolaou I would put "The implication of that is..." right in the body of the question in bold! I think that is a good take home message from all of this :) I included all of the boilerplate below so that people could consult the proper channels at SE if necessary, because we do take this type of thing very seriously! I regret that I don't have more of a chance to screen every post, but the community can certainly do that level of policing and let mods know as problems arise. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Jul 17, 2016 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ One thing to consider is that copyright requires the work to be original and minimally creative. Expressing a reaction using skeletal structures is not considered creative, so even with the watermark, its not considered copyright infringement. $\endgroup$
    – A.K.
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


There is a mechanism in place to request that copyrighted material be taken down: It can be found under section 15 of the http://stackexchange.com/legal/terms-of-service.

  1. Copyright Policy

Stack Exchange has adopted the following policy toward copyright infringement with respect to the Network in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The address of Stack Exchange's Designated Agent for copyright takedown notices (“Designated Agent”) is listed below. Reporting Copyright Infringements

If You believe that content residing or accessible on the Network infringes a copyright, please send a notice of copyright infringement containing the following information to the Designated Agent at the address below (all received notices will be posted in full to Lumen):

  1. Identification of the work or material being infringed.
  2. Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing, including its location, with sufficient detail so that Stack Exchange is capable of finding and verifying its existence.
  3. Contact information about the notifying party (the Notifying Party), including name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
  4. A statement that the Notifying Party has a good faith belief that the material is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent or law.
  5. A statement made under penalty of perjury that the information provided in the notice is accurate and that the Notifying Party is authorized to make the complaint on behalf of the copyright owner.
  6. The Notifying Party's physical or electronic signature.

After the Designated Agent receives notification of an alleged infringement that meets all of the requirements above, Stack Exchange shall:

  1. Disable access to or remove material that it has a reasonable, good faith belief is copyrighted material that has been illegally copied and distributed by any subscriber to the Network.
  2. Stack Exchange will then immediately notify the subscriber responsible for the allegedly infringing material (the Offending Subscriber) that it has removed or disabled access to the material.
  3. Stack Exchange reserves the right, at its discretion, to immediately terminate the account of any subscriber who is the subject of repeated takedown notices.

Filing Copyright Counterclaims

A subscriber who believes they are the wrongful subject of a copyright takedown notice may file a counter notification with Stack Exchange by providing the following items in writing to the Designated Agent at the address below (all received notices will be posted in full to Lumen):

The specific URLs of material that Stack Exchange has removed or to which Stack Exchange has disabled access.
User’s name, address, telephone number, and email address.
A statement that User consent to the jurisdiction of Federal District Court for the judicial district in which your address is located (or New York County, New York if your address is outside of the United States), and that User will accept service of process from the person who provided notification under subsection (c)(1)(C) or an agent of such person.
The following statement: "I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I have a good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of a mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled." User’s signature.

Upon receipt of a counterclaim, Stack Exchange will forward it to the party who submitted the original copyright infringement claim. The original complainant will then have 10 days to notify us that he or she has filed legal action relating to the allegedly infringing material. If Stack Exchange does not receive any such notification within 10 days, we may restore the material to the Network. Designated Agent

Attn: Copyright Agent Stack Exchange Inc. 110 William St, 28th Floor New York, NY 10038

Tel: +1 (212) 232-8280 Fax: +1 (212) 785-4578 Email: dmca@stackexchange.com

In terms of your first concern, fair use is definitely a factor in using a limited amount of scholarly material without explicit permission, but a good faith effort in locating the source of the material (and using appropriate blockquoting, etc.) has been what we've striven for on the site. Plagiarism is certainly not tolerated under any circumstance.

Any time there's a question of whether something is acceptable, it's okay to flag and ask. If we don't know the answer, we can follow up with one of the CMs.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Martin! $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Jul 18, 2016 at 22:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ By the way, note that images of simple structural formulas are ineligible for copyright and therefore in the public domain. $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Jul 22, 2016 at 18:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Loong Was not aware. Never hurts to give a hat tip to your source, though, either way. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Jul 22, 2016 at 23:06

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