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I wrote a paper that I want to put on my webpage, but that I don't want to publish anywhere. I think that I need a timestamp on it, in case someone decides to plagiarize it. Is GitHub adequate for this?

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    Did you consider arXiv? – Dmitry Savostyanov Jul 15 '14 at 15:22
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    It is not difficult at all to be endorsed on arXiv, if you know people in your field. You're right that arXiv provides full version control with all timestamps - in the same way as public github repo does. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jul 15 '14 at 15:46
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    @Dmitry , I would say ArXiv does limited version control. (For example, you can't remove versions.) For the basic purpose of providing an independent timestamp, ArXiv and Github suffice. Legally, a notary is better. – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 15 '14 at 16:40
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    Remember that neither GitHub nor ArXiv can guarantee to still be in business when you need that evidence. If you care enough to want a clear timestamp, getting it notarized is a fairly cheap investment. Especially if someone in your school's staff is a notary (fairly common) and offers discount services to colleagues (also fairly common). – keshlam Jul 15 '14 at 17:07
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Let's be scientists (It was fun to try out): below is a small repository, where I first tried 'lol' to have a timestamp in the future ... doesn't work; but at least in 'history' I could backdate (bit unlikely that I authored s.th. in git 1980 ;-).

But at least the day that I pushed is set by github.com. In total, though, I wouldn't trust this scheme. ``I forgot to push but look at the authored date, I totally solved it years ago''.

Jul 15, 2014

history 2b5d4208aa Browse code choener authored on Jan 1, 1980

lol fc2a68a571 Browse code choener authored just now

https://github.com/choener/lol/commits/master

  • For plagiarism protection git timestamps may be useless, but exposing code publicly (public awareness, possible forks, Wayback Machine) GitHub may serve its role (vide there was a post that the best way to protect against plagiarism is to sent a draft to many scientists). – Piotr Migdal Jul 17 '14 at 10:24
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    Absolutely! I only considered the technical 'timestamp' aspect. I prefer to have all my libraries on github and all my preprints on my webpage + preprint servers. (And the community is small enough that it doesn't matter for me) – choener Jul 17 '14 at 13:02
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Poor man's copyright protection can be done by sending a copy of the work to yourself by registered mail. The timestamp is provided by the federal government and as long as the envelope remains sealed, it is proof of creation on or before that date. Of course, I would also get a notarized or authenticated document as well.

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    Doesn't work for copyright, so of dubious legal value: snopes.com/legal/postmark.asp – Christian Clason Jul 15 '14 at 22:23
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    Unless you are planning on suing somebody for publishing your idea, I don't see why the law has much to do with this. – Benjamin Mako Hill Jul 15 '14 at 23:44
  • It's just to timestamp when you had written some idea in that form. I made no claims about legal value for a lawsuit. Also, the Snopes link only applies to USA and UK. – user479 Jul 16 '14 at 1:59
  • Technically, this only proves existence of the envelope on or before that date (the postmark is not tamper proof); as long as you have possession of the sealed envelope, I don't see how this would convince anyone who wouldn't already take your word for it. Hence the service of a notary. (But if you visit France, the Soleau envelope is a poor man's notary.) – Christian Clason Jul 16 '14 at 7:16

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