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I've looked at Is it acceptable to copy and paste questions from other sites? and A policy on plagiarism, and I'm aware that puzzles which are directly copy-pasted from other sites or sources without attribution are liable to be deleted for plagiarism. Likewise, it's clear that puzzles which are directly copy-pasted with attribution are not plagiarised, and won't be deleted for that reason.

My question is: what about puzzles which are paraphrased from other sites or sources?

Let's say I find a cool maths puzzle on a website somewhere which I want to share on Puzzling SE, but I rewrite the problem in my own words. Perhaps I make some sort of padding or story element around it, but when you boil it down to the essential mathematical content, it's the same idea as I found on another site. Do I need to link back to the place I found it, or can I just post it as if it was my own invention, since the presentation is my own work and the essential ideas of mathematical theorems and proofs are free and uncopyrightable?


Disclaimer: I have done this in the past, before I was aware of PSE's plagiarism policy: found maths or logic puzzles on the web and used the ideas to post my own rewritten versions here. But please don't go on a witch hunt and start flagging or deleting a bunch of my posts for plagiarism: if the answer to this question is "yes, you do need to provide attribution", then I'll happily go through my old questions one by one and edit in links where appropriate.

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    $\begingroup$ As a side note, I'm fairly confident that nearly all of our mathematics puzzles aren't original PSE content, and have previously appeared in puzzle books, contests, etc. So if the answer to this question is "yes, you do need to provide attribution", there will have to be large-scale editing or flagging/deleting of our maths puzzles - which would be a shame, IMHO. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Sep 11 '16 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ *busts out the pitchforks* ... *clicks rand's post history* ... in seriousness though (and noting that I'm far from being a lawyer), as you say ideas can't be copyrighted, only implementations, so I can't see any legal issues with "paraphrasing", but legality, ethics and policy are all separate topics. Personally, I think that if all you're changing is the presentation, then you should give credit/attribution, but if you are just taking a kernel of an idea, it shifts more to the "inspiration" side of things, and is probably fine... $\endgroup$ – Alconja Sep 12 '16 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ However, (particularly in maths) there's also the additional caveat of when a puzzle becomes "common" or a "classic" (i.e. if it's a puzzle that is likely to exist in multiple forms in multiple places already)... In this case, giving attribution seems a little pointless as you're just attributing where you learned it, rather than the original author. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Sep 12 '16 at 1:03
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(We're still deliberating the details in mod chat, but this is our general consensus so far, and the current policy on plagiarism.)

  • If the puzzles are "chestnuts", appearing in several different sources, then no source is necessary. (For instance, the "100 prisoners" puzzle and most of its variants would be okay source-free.)

  • If they come from a mathematics competition, puzzle book, or other source that seems to have come up with it originally, then they must be sourced.

Even if you modify a problem to add a story or make it more puzzly (which I do recommend!), you should still mention where it came from. Otherwise, it may be deleted under the plagiarism rules.

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