Close paraphrasing is the superficial modification of material from another source. Editors should generally summarize source material in their own words, adding inline citations as required by the sourcing policy.
Limited close paraphrasing is appropriate within reason, as is quoting, so long as the material is clearly attributed in the text – for example, by adding "John Smith wrote ...", together with a footnote containing the citation at the end of the clause, sentence or paragraph. Limited close paraphrasing is also appropriate if there are only a limited number of ways to say the same thing.
Close paraphrasing without in-text attribution may constitute plagiarism, and when extensive (with or without in-text attribution) may also violate Wikipedia's copyright policy, which forbids Wikipedia contributors from copying an excessive amount of material directly from other sources. Public domain material must likewise be attributed to avoid plagiarism. If the source material bears a free copyright license that is compatible with Wikipedia's licenses, copying or closely paraphrasing it is not a copyright violation so long as the source is attributed somewhere in the article, usually at the end.
The best way to prevent close paraphrasing is to understand clearly when it is a problem, how to avoid it, and how to address it when it appears.
There are legal, ethical, and organizational standard considerations regarding the use of close paraphrasing.
Wikipedia's primary concern is with the legal constraints imposed by copyright law. Close paraphrasing of the creative expression in a non-free copyrighted source is likely to be an infringement of the copyright of the source. In many countries close paraphrasing may be also seen as mutilation or distortion of an author's work, infringing on their moral rights.
Facts and ideas cannot be protected by copyright, but creative expression is protected. The test of creativity is minimal.
The Llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat, with an indolent expression and an undulating throat; like an unsuccessful literary man.
If this somewhat dubious source was used for the article on llamas and was still protected by copyright, it would be acceptable to say that the llama is an animal with a shaggy coat, and perhaps that it has a long neck. These are facts. But use of the phrases "indolent expression" and "undulating throat" might violate copyright. The original choice of words is part of Belloc's creative expression. Going further, the simile "like an unsuccessful literary man" is also creative, and is also protected. A clumsy paraphrase like "resembling a failed writer" might violate copyright even though the words are entirely different. More than the facts have been copied.
It is of course also necessary that other requirements for copyright violation also exist, such as being a "substantial" taking.
Translation from a foreign language is a form of paraphrase, since all the words or phrases have been replaced with equivalent English-language words or phrases. This may or may not be acceptable, depending on whether any creative expression – anything other than simple statements of fact – has been taken from the foreign-language source. For example, consider two translations from the Turkish language:
The first is a simple statement of fact and should be acceptable. The second carries over the figurative expressions "looms through" and "like a red omen", so presumably is not acceptable despite using completely different words from the original. But even if you only carry across statements of fact, the more you translate and the more closely you translate, the more likely you are to create a copyright problem.
Although facts are not subject to copyright, a selection or arrangement of facts may be considered creative and therefore protected. For example, an alphabetical list of states in the US giving their name, size and population cannot be copyrighted. However, a shorter list of states giving the name, size and population as before, but ranked as the "top most livable states" would be subject to copyright. The selection and ranking is creative.
Wikipedia does not have an official policy regarding moral rights of authors.
The "moral rights" of an author are independent of copyright ownership. They include the author's right to control first publication of a work; the author's right to be attributed or to remain anonymous; the author's right for the work to be published without distortion or mutilation. As with copyright, moral rights apply to creative expression but not to mere facts. Respecting moral rights can help ensure that Wikipedia content can be reused as widely as possible.
In accordance with verifiability policy, Wikipedia editors should not use unpublished work (note: unpublished work in public collections may be suitable). With published work, editors should attribute each source to the author where the publication names the author, and attribute the source to the publication if it does not name the author. It is sometimes relevant for an article to include a short quotation such as a significant statement made by the subject of the article or a notable comment about the subject. In these cases a verbatim quotation should be given rather than a paraphrase. Quotations should be used sparingly, typically only if the information within cannot be conveyed otherwise. They should be clearly identified and formatted as defined in MOS:QUOTE.
The US Copyright Office states that, "Copyright law does not protect names, titles, or short phrases or expressions... The Copyright Office cannot register claims to exclusive rights in brief combinations of words ... To be protected by copyright, a work must contain a certain minimum amount of authorship ... Names, titles, and other short phrases do not meet these requirements." However, if a source creatively combines, selects or arranges names, titles, short phrases or expressions, following it too closely may infringe on its copyright.
Paraphrasing rises to the level of copyright infringement when there is substantial similarity between an article and a copyrighted source. This may exist when the creative expression in an important passage of the source has been closely paraphrased, even if it is a small portion of the source, or when paraphrasing is looser but covers a larger part of the source or covers "the heart" (the most essential content). A close paraphrase of one sentence from a book may be of low concern, while a close paraphrase of one paragraph of a two-paragraph article might be considered a serious violation. Editors must therefore take particular care when writing an article, or a section of an article, that has much the same scope as a single source. The editor must be especially careful in these cases to extract the facts alone and present the facts in plain language, without carrying forward anything that could be considered "creative expression".
Under US copyright law, however, substantial similarity does not always indicate infringement. It does not indicate infringement, for instance, where the doctrine of fair use permits the use of the material. Wikipedia deliberately adopts a narrower limitation and exception from copyright than fair use. Our policy and guideline are set out at Wikipedia:Non-free content.
Substantial similarity is also immaterial when strong evidence exists that the content was created independently. An author may think they are being original when they write "Charles de Gaulle was a towering statesman", not realizing that many other authors have independently come up with these identical words. What looks like copying or close paraphrasing may thus be accidental. These similarities are more likely to exist where content is less creative and more formulaic. Independent creation is less likely when there is evidence that the source was consulted or close following is extensive.
Even when content is verifiably public domain or released under a compatible free license, close paraphrasing may be at odds with Wikipedia's guideline related to plagiarism (see Wikipedia:Plagiarism). While in this context, too, close paraphrasing of a single sentence is not as much of a concern, if a contributor closely paraphrases public domain or freely licensed content, they should explicitly acknowledge that content is closely paraphrased. (See below.)
Another potential problem arises when a contributor copies or closely paraphrases a biased source either purposefully or without understanding the bias. This can make the article appear to directly espouse the bias of the source, which violates our neutral point of view policy.
There are a few specific situations when close paraphrasing is permitted. If information is gathered from the public domain or is free use content, close paraphrasing may be acceptable. In some instances it is helpful to capture the words as written, in which case the guidelines for Quotations apply. Lastly, there may be some instances where it's difficult to paraphrase because of the nature of the content; in such cases, there are a couple of tips below about how to limit the degree of close paraphrasing to avoid issues.
When using a close paraphrase legitimately, citing a source is in most cases required and highly recommended.
In some limited cases, close paraphrasing may be an acceptable way of writing an article. For example, many Wikipedia articles are (or were) based on text from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica (see Wikipedia:1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica). If the source is in the public domain, such as work of the U.S. government, or is available under a license compatible with the CC-BY-SA license (a partial table of license compatibility can be found at the Copyright FAQ), then the source may be closely paraphrased if the source is appropriately attributed. Attribution in such instances may include in-text attribution that makes clear whose words or ideas are being used (e.g. "John Smith wrote that ...") or may include more general attribution that indicates the material originates from a free source, either as part of an inline citation or as a general notice in the article's "References" section (for further information on how to attribute free sources, see ).
Limited quotation from non-free copyrighted sources is allowed, as discussed in Wikipedia's non-free content policy and guideline. Quotations should have in-text attribution and should be cited to their original source or author (see WP:When to cite). With direct quotation, editors should clearly distinguish the quoted material from the original text of the article following the guidelines for quotations. Extensive use of quotation from non-free sources is generally not acceptable. Even if content is attributed, it can still create copyright problems if the taking is too substantial. To avoid this risk, Wikipedia keeps this—like other non-free content—minimal.
Quotation from non-free sources may be appropriate when the exact words in the source are relevant to the article, not just the facts or ideas given by the source. Examples may include statements made by a person discussed in the article; brief excerpts from a poem, song, or book described in the article; or significant opinions about the subject of the article. Quotation should not, however, be treated as an alternative to extracting facts and presenting them in plain language. Thus:
Close paraphrasing is also permitted when there are only a limited number of ways to say the same thing. This may be the case when there is no reasonable way to avoid using technical terms, and may also be the case with simple statements of fact.
Names or titles of people, organizations, books, films and so on may be given in full – there is no creative expression in a name or title, which is often the only way to identify the subject. Short catchphrases, slogans or mottos may also be reproduced where relevant to the discussion. It is acceptable to use a technical term such as "The War of the Spanish Succession" or "Relational Database Management System (RDBMS)" when the term is almost always used by sources that discuss the subject, and when such sources rarely use any other term. In this case, the technical term is considered to be "merged" with the idea expressed. There is no reasonable alternative way of expressing the idea, and since ideas are not subject to copyright the term is also not protected. However, if different sources use different terms for the concept, it may be best for the article to use a different term from the source or to include the term in a sourced quote.
An example of closely paraphrased simple statements of fact is given by a biography that relies on two sources for the basic outline. The sources and the article start with:
In this example, the wording of the article is very close to that of both sources. However, the article merely presents standard facts for a topic like this in standard sequence. The article does not copy any creative words or phrases, similes or metaphors, and makes an effort at paraphrasing in the second sentence. Just two short sentences are close to the sources. For these reasons the close paraphrasing should be acceptable. Note, however, that closely paraphrasing extensively from a non-free source may be a copyright problem, even if it is difficult to find different means of expression. The more extensively we rely on this exception, the more likely we are to run afoul of compilation protection.
In this example, Wikipedia's article text is an attempt at paraphrasing the source. However, almost all of the original word choice, word order and sentence structure is retained.
See below for an example of an unusable paraphrase repaired to become acceptable.
The example above on this page illustrates a common way in which people closely paraphrase content; this one demonstrates how to properly synthesize and paraphrase information.
Unlike straightforward copyright violations, close paraphrasing is notoriously difficult to detect; frequently the contributor will add wiki syntax and write in the style of a Wikipedia article (as indeed they should). Here are some ways you might detect it:
Your approach may vary depending upon the severity of the concern. Here are a couple of ways to manage close-paraphrase concerns.
Insert a dispute template and/or engage in a copyright-infringement discussion: Your approach here may depend upon the extensiveness of the issues you discover.
It is important to discuss your concerns with the contributor. Many people who paraphrase too closely are not intentionally infringing, but just don't know how to properly paraphrase. It might help to point them to this essay or to the references and resources listed here, which include some pointers for proper paraphrasing.
Note: All text in these examples is dedicated by its authors to the public domain
The following example messages can be copied and pasted directly from this page, although you will need to fill in your own example close paraphrases as well as supplying the article's title and the source URL. The messages strive to avoid accusations while at the same time pointing to clear instructions on how to fix errors of this sort. The spaces for examples from the editor's inappropriate text are provided because even experienced or good faith editors may not recognize where the issues lie without them. If there is a passage of several consecutive sentences which is a continuous close paraphrase, this may alone be a sufficient demonstration. Otherwise, showing the pattern in several separated sentences is typically better than offering one, brief example.
:example from source
The article says:
:example from article
There are other passages that similarly follow quite closely.
As a website that is widely read and reused, Wikipedia takes copyright very seriously to protect the interests of the holders of copyright as well as those of the Wikimedia Foundation and our reusers. Wikipedia's [[Wikipedia:Copyrights|copyright policies]] require that the content we take from non-free sources, aside from brief and clearly marked quotations, be rewritten from scratch.
The article has been replaced with a notice of these copyright concerns that includes directions for resolving them. If the material can be verified to be [[Wikipedia:Compatible license|compatibly licensed]] or [[Wikipedia:Public domain|public domain]] or if [[Wikipedia:Copyright problems#Copyright owners who submitted their own work to Wikipedia (or people editing on their behalf)|permission is provided]], we can use the original text with proper attribution. If you can resolve it that way, please let me know if you need assistance with those directions. Otherwise, so that we can be sure it does not constitute a derivative work, this article should be rewritten; there is a link to a temporary space for that purpose in the instructions which now appear in place of the article. The essay [[Wikipedia:Close paraphrasing]] contains some suggestions for rewriting that may help avoid these issues. The article [[Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-04-13/Dispatches]], while about plagiarism rather than copyright concerns, also contains some suggestions for reusing material from sources that may be helpful, beginning under "Avoiding plagiarism".
While facts are not copyrightable, creative elements of presentation – including both structure and language – are. For an example of close paraphrasing, consider the following:
The source says:
:example from source
The article says:
:example from article
This is an example; there are other passages that similarly follow quite closely.
As a website that is widely read and reused, Wikipedia takes copyright very seriously to protect the interests of the holders of copyright as well as those of the Wikimedia Foundation and our reusers. Wikipedia's [[Wikipedia:Copyrights|copyright policies]] require that the content we take from non-free sources, aside from brief and clearly marked quotations, be rewritten from scratch. So that we can be sure it does not constitute a [[derivative work]], this article should be revised to separate it further from its source. The essay [[Wikipedia:Close paraphrasing]] contains some suggestions for rewriting that may help avoid these issues. The article [[Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-04-13/Dispatches]] also contains some suggestions for reusing material from sources that may be helpful, beginning under "Avoiding plagiarism".
A number of Wikipedia policies and guidelines are relevant to this essay. They include:
Several Wikipedia articles discuss related topics such as Copyright law of the United States, fair use, plagiarism, moral rights and paraphrasing of copyrighted material. These may be of interest to editors. However, they may have inaccuracies or omissions, and Wikipedia has a broader aim of providing material that may be used anywhere for any purpose, which imposes further restrictions that are defined in our policies and guidelines.