Quoting from Quora – a note of caution for journalists

Did you know it’s possible to mark your answers on Quora as “not for reproduction”? No, me neither.

Thanks to Marian Tobias Wirth (@mtwirth), who made me aware of this after my previous post on Quora’s lack of trust for its community, I’ve now had a bit of a poke at the answer settings and this particular one poses some very interesting issues – and a potential danger for journalists using Quora answers as a source.

Quora’s terms of service includes a paragraph about licences, which says the following (bolding mine):

Subject to these Terms, Quora gives you a worldwide, royalty-free, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to re-post any of the Content on Quora anywhere on the rest of the web provided that … the user who created the content has not explicitly marked the content as not for reproduction …

So what does that mean?

Essentially, it seems to suggest that Quora users have some protection against their comments being taken out of context or used in other places in ways they might not like – including being quoted by journalists without permission.

The setting isn’t easy to find – it can only be applied after an answer has been posted, by clicking on the little grey “settings” cogwheel between the “delete” option and the date at the bottom of your answer. And here’s what it looks like when it’s been turned on:

Quora comment marked not for reproduction
How the “not for reproduction” option appears

Not 100% obvious or clear on the page, and with no immediate hints as to what, precisely, the setting means, or how media organisations or individuals should treat the text. Quora founder Charlie Cheever has indicated the setting may be made clearer in future – but unless/until that happens, this is a potential problem for journalists who might not know what’s expected of them on this new forum.

Quora has said it won’t police the reproduction of content marked this way, and that it’s down to users to seek reparation if it happens to them. And at least one user has already tried to do so: after parts of her Quora answer appeared in a Time article, one user has openly questioned why it was used without her permission. And the comment in question – at least, I believe it is the comment in question, since it contains the same quote, is referred to by several other users in the Quora thread as her answer, and because of this tweet – is now attributed to an anonymous user, raising all sorts of questions about how the quote should, or could, be attributed correctly now.

Quora’s terms of service also stipulate that content must be attributed to Quora itself with a direct link, and that publishers must make reasonable efforts to edit the content or delete it to bring it in line with the most up-to-date version on Quora itself if they are asked to do so.

Given that the “not for reproduction” setting can be added to answers at any time, this could pose an issue for journalists if permission to use comments freely is retroactively revoked. So far, I don’t know of any examples of this being tested – but it may be just a matter of time.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

10 thoughts on “Quoting from Quora – a note of caution for journalists”

  1. Surely if the information is in the public domain it matters not one jot if someone says “not for reproduction”? For instance, you could say that this blog is not for reproduction but since it is in the public domain what law stops stop me quoting from it along the lines of “MH, on her MetaMedia blog, says “Quora’s terms of service… could pose an issue for journalists.” If you quote an answer on Quora you simply say “As Jack said in reply to this question on Quora…” – Jack might not like it but since it is a published comment surely his “not for reproduction” stipulation is meaningless?

    1. It’s an interesting question. I’d assumed that setting was meant as a protection against people simply copying and reposting answers in total without linking, but that’s already against Quora’s terms of service. If someone wants to speak “off the record” I’d assume they would post anonymously – so I’m still not sure precisely what the purpose of the setting is. Or how it could possibly be treated appropriately, given that confusion.

      1. Puzzling – isn’t that what copyright protects against (not just the terms of service)? Speaking off the record merely protects their name not their quote – odd – suspect it is meaningless until someone sues.

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