7
$\begingroup$

Let's say I'm thinking about an unsolved mathematical problem for a hobby and I draw some conclusions of my own. I'd like to make these ideas public, allow anyone to use them absolutely freely (even without mentioning me) and maintain these ideas on my blog/notes website.

Now let's say a reader leaves a comment and contributes with something extra, advancing the quest to solving the unsolved mathematical problem. Maybe he/she improved an idea I already posted. I want to then continue with my hobby free to use ideas that my readers are posting, meaning, make it clear that I don't owe them anything as I use their ideas, it is therefore their responsibility if they choose to post something under this condition. I don't want to get to be in a situation where someone demands something from me because 'they came up with it'. Once some mathematical result R is communicated from person A to person B, B cannot simply "undo" this exchange even if he wants to. He cannot simply pretend he "doesn't know" R.

How could I approach this? Is it enough to mention my conditions on my website? Would I be legally bound to anything in such a situation or is this actually a non-problem and I'm overthinking it?

(I'm not sure what the proper place to ask this is, I've also posted it on the 'law' stackexchange.)

$\endgroup$
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ I think that in some ways you are over-thinking it... but, on another hand, the notion of "possession" of ideas is curiously widespread... and just by explaining your wishes on a website may or may not obligate users of the site to anything... depending on your jurisdiction and theirs. I myself have thought about such things for some years, and/but I'll wait to see what younger people have to say (since my pre-internet experience seems to have made me "more radical" than others... or... something...) $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Aug 24 at 21:14
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ As far as I'm concerned it's not really a question of legality but rather of acceptable academic practice, the interpretation of which varies greatly among individual people. The most important thing is always to communicate clearly. $\endgroup$ – R. van Dobben de Bruyn Aug 24 at 22:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ While it is somewhat too optimistic to expect every mathematician to be sane, demanding something from a non-profit user because of a comment one left on a website is truly insane. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Smolensky Aug 24 at 22:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You mention crossposting to LawSE, but maybe also AcademiaSE? $\endgroup$ – LSpice Aug 24 at 23:21
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ As long as you do not claim any exclusive rights on the final solution, nobody will be in a position to demand anything from you though some people may still try (you cannot overestimate the desire of people to say "It was I, who..."). However, if you officially publish the result, the general politeness demands that you don't just do it under your own name without mentioning other contributors. You don't owe them anything only as long as you do not try to convert the abstract idea into a tangible personal benefit. I do not know what the law has to say, but that is what my common sense says. $\endgroup$ – fedja Aug 25 at 0:40
5
$\begingroup$

When it comes to legal rights, I think a disclaimer might suffice, though IANAL and you maybe should consult one.

When it comes to giving proper attribution and credit for ideas, I think this is not (or not only) something that an author owes to a specific originator of the ideas, but rather (or also) something an author owes to the community at large. In particular, if I read your blog and make significant use of your original ideas to write a paper, and don't cite (or otherwise acknowledge) your blog, I have committed plagiarism whether you care or not. Similarly, if I leave an important comment and you use it to write a paper, you are obliged to cite or acknowledge the comment whether I care or not. (Note this obligation persists even if I remain completely anonymous, even untraceably so!) This is because you have a duty to your readers to make as clear as possible the history of the ideas in your paper, in addition to anything you might "owe" me as originator of those ideas.

(There has been one situation where knowing that a particular theorem in a paper was due to an anonymous referee and not the author arguably led me to pursuing the right ideas in my own research.)

| cite | improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.