I just saw this question which dumps a Google Drive link to an Elsevier article. The article is not open-access, therefore that link, in my IANAL opinion, represents copyright infringement. While this site hasn't raised this issue before, it has been discussed in meta.SE. The relevant discussions I've found are Answers that direct towards material that infringes copyright and Dealing with posts plagiarising from copyrighted sources.

The main answer to the first basically suggests flagging the post to moderators and, if possible, editing the link out and replacing it with a note.

The main answer to the second raises very valid points regarding whether we should do anything about copyrighted material in the first place without a request from the rights' owner. It even argues (though the answerer is not a lawyer) that to do anything could actually possibly endanger the site if any copyrighted material were accidentally allowed to remain.

So, what is our position? Do we leave such posts be? Do we close them but otherwise ignore them? Delete them? Edit them, removing the offending links and (if possible) replacing them with valid links (such as to the official sciencedirect.com page where the article can be purchased, for example)?


2 Answers 2


It's not the responsibility of any SE user, including volunteer moderators, to make any determination about intellectual property (IP).

This site's Terms of Service (TOS) detail in section 15, "Copyright Policy," the process for reporting copyright infringement. Notably, the notifying party in this clause is not required to claim that it is their copyright being infringed upon (which is sometimes the case on other sites). So if you would like to protect someone else's IP, feel free to go that route.

You can edit a post in order to make it more useful. If removing the link is part of how you make the post more useful, then it really doesn't matter what was behind the link. It's perfectly reasonable to replace a link to external information with a quote or paraphrasing of the most relevant information and a citation to the official source. Replacing a file-sharing link with a DOI is absolutely an improvement, whether or not the source material is paywalled, because DOIs are far less prone to link rot. A link removed in this way would remain in the edit history as a secondary resource for particularly tenacious and/or desperate users, unless challenged and redacted through the process described in the TOS.

And of course, you can always use comments to discuss your concerns with the author of the post.

So, what is our position? Do we leave such posts be?

With respect to community moderation—editing, reviewing, closing, deleting, flagging—you treat them like any other post.

Speaking for myself, as a current site moderator: I will decline flags requesting action on potential violation of IP rights. We do not have legal standing and we are not trained to handle takedown requests; take it up with Stack Exchange.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is the way to go, indeed: we have proper channels in place, where copyright owners can submit DMCA takedown requests, that the staff will handle. $\endgroup$
    – JNat StaffMod
    Jan 24, 2017 at 10:08

Assuming the question is a valid, on-topic question for the site, here's what I believe we should do.

  1. For any content behind a paywall or something that reasonably appears to be copyright infringement - please point that out in a comment and ask the author of the question to resolve the issue.

  2. In addition to commenting, edit the post as best you are able, to remove the problematic link / content. Try to preserve the intent of the question as much as possible.

  3. For egregious copyright violations and / or where the owner of the copyright is making a claim within the question via comment or a non-answer, encourage the owner of the copyright to flag the question for moderator intervention. Mods have the ability to redact revisions, and / or we can contact the SE team for even more thorough purging of content.

There's a balancing act to be considered though. We need to be mindful that a question's author may have permission to post the copyrighted material for the purposes of gathering more information. Or it's possible that a copyright owner has provided everything under a more permissive license for use. And we shouldn't forget terms of fair use, which would allow for using portions of copyrighted material.

It's reasons like those that I believe we should elicit more information from the question's author before taking drastic action through the mod tools. Once those mod hammers strike, it's very difficult to undo their actions.

So it's very valid to ascertain that copyrighted material is being used per the terms of its license. But we shouldn't immediately rush to assume everything is an infringement.

In the subject question, it appears that the OP has revised their question which resolves the immediate concerns.


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