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I'm writing an application, and I get help on Stack Overflow for many of my code primitives. Somewhere in my application I would like to acknowledge Stack Overflow's "help" in building the application, and more importantly, mention the names (or aliases) of the specific Stack Overflow users that helped me the most with solid detailed answers, including links to their Stack Overflow user page. I believe in crediting people and I believe this credit is justified.

However, I realized that by doing so I may be exposing myself to intellectual property ownership claims by those users I'm trying to credit ("he just admitted I participated in developing this app, but he didn't pay me any $$$, I can sue!"). It's not that I'm saying the users will take advantage of my acknowledgement, but rather that from a legal standpoint it looks fishy and may open a door for problems.

To clarify, I'm not bothered by using the content provided in Stack Overflow—I'm not copy-pasting anything, and even if I did, I understand very well that I can freely use the content. What bothers me is that by mentioning names I'm somehow exposing myself in a different way than using content.

Has anyone bumped into this or a similar problem? I would really like to credit Stack Overflow and individual users.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 30 '09 at 12:20

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

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its very nice of you that you are not taking away any ones credit :) –  Searock May 12 '09 at 5:38
    
Rax you can link me. (I think I helped you with one question but you accepted someone else who basically had the same answer) I won't sue. –  Unknown May 12 '09 at 5:40
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This is a perfectly valid and good question .. however it should probably become CW/SOFAQ. –  Tim Post May 12 '09 at 5:42
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It is a good question, but technically speaking StackOverflow is maybe not the best place to get it answered... we're programmers, not lawyers. And this is definitely a legal question. –  David Z May 12 '09 at 5:47
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@Unknown: It'd be hilarious to read your credit in the app... "... and not to forget 'Unknown' who helped with his answer too!" –  Cerebrus May 12 '09 at 5:56
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wow... scared of saying thank you in case you get sued. the system works! oh wait... –  nailitdown May 12 '09 at 7:00
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@nailitdown: IMHO the sarcasm is out of place. As I explicitly mentioned, I'm not really scared of anyone sueing me. It would irresponsible of me not to think about the legal aspects of my work. –  Roee Adler May 12 '09 at 7:25
    
Just don't do it –  jmfsg Apr 6 '10 at 23:30
    
@nailitdown - the system does work. However, the system being enterprenurial-hostile USA legal environment, and by "works", means the lawyers won.. –  DVK Apr 6 '10 at 23:43

9 Answers 9

It is my personal opinion (though I'm sure you'll find thousands of lawyers who feel otherwise) that if someone posts something on Stack Overflow, they've turned it over to the community. Ownership is no longer in play because it's assumed that the information provided is going to help others in their own individual situation.

I think it's nice you're even trying to give credit where credit's due.

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I would feel free to credit SO in general, but avoid singling out users w/o some sort of written consent-- I'm sure your app is awesome, but it does not necessarily follow that everyone will want their name associated with it.

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@Matt: That's a valid point, but please assume I asked permission... What I'm trying to say is that overall, as a community, I think we're better off crediting than not crediting, and we obviously do need to ask permission. From this point my questions begins. –  Roee Adler May 12 '09 at 5:55
    
+1 Imagine some made a very racist flash game, and then put your name in the credits because it uses code from one of your answers. –  Jop Vernooij Jun 4 '13 at 17:55

I would acknowledge the Stackoverflow community in general and not single users.

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@Luixv: Thanks, but from my perspective - this is very much "walking on the safe side". I really want to find a solution... –  Roee Adler May 12 '09 at 6:04

Content on Stackoverflow is released under a Creative Commons license (also mentioned here) so yes you can use it. In fact by attributing sources you are complying with the license. You can however rest assured that noone can come after you for using "their" code so long as that code was posted by them here.

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@cletus: Thanks, I understand your statement about the content, and I'm not bothered by the content. Rather, by "admitting" the participation of several users, I may be somehow "cancelling" the clause you are referring to in your answer (and this does not relate to the content, but to the user/developer). –  Roee Adler May 12 '09 at 5:43
    
There are two issues here: the content and whoever wrote it. The content is covered by the license. Whoever wrote it is covered by what are called "moral rights" and is covered by attribution. You're fine. I think most people would be honoured to be mentioned. –  cletus May 12 '09 at 5:50
    
... in some magical fantasy legal world StackOverflow lives in in which you can license out user-submitted content without asking for their consent. I still haven't figure that one out. –  Instance Hunter Aug 16 '09 at 6:01
    
@Daniel: Their consent is given when they agree to the terms of the site before posting content. –  Jeff Yates Jun 24 '10 at 12:37

(Disclaimer - I'm not a lawyer) According to the statement at the bottom of each StackOverflow page, "all user contributed content is licensed under cc-wiki". The CreativeCommons license that is linked to in that statement describes your rights and obligations. But you really should consult a lawyer who specializes in IP.

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The footer at the bottom of every page says, " all user contributed content is licensed under cc-wiki".

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And interesting the "Share Alike" clause is very much like the GPL (a very anti-commercial software license) –  Unknown May 12 '09 at 5:42

I've used some functions (and pieces of them) that I found on SO, some of them were provided as answers to my questions.

SO is CC-BY-SA, which is compatible with most free software licenses, which I typically use (the 3 clause BSD).

What I did, to keep everything neat was put those functions into a separate file, then licensed that file under the CC-BY-SA. Each function has notes of who contributed in the comments, their user page URL.

So, if your company wants to use my BSD code and is worried about the implications of those functions and their license ... you need only re-write a few things.

However, CC-BY-SA is not viral. You are not required to divulge your source code just because you use code you found on SO. If you distribute the source code to your customers, then you are required to ensure proper attribution.

In other words, the attribution requirement only pertains when you distribute the source code. It is not like the GPL.

EDIT:

There are no ownership issues. You could get advice from Google, a POSIX manual, a book that you bought on programming or millions of other sources. You aren't using entire functions verbatim, there are no copyright / ownership issues.

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@tinkertim: Thanks, but I'm not bothered about the content, I understand the licences. I'm bothered about mentioning names as contributors on a commercial application, which in my intuition is a different story. –  Roee Adler May 12 '09 at 5:46

The content is licensed under Creative Commons. You need to be aware that Creative Commons is Copyleft license which means it is a viral license.

You are free to share it and derive from it, however, all derivations and copies must attribute the original author(s) and they must be shared under the same conditions.

That last bit is a problem for some companies because the bit of code licensed under CC will continue to morph and prevail within the system. For example, if someone posts code for an interface that you copy, the concrete implementations of the interface may be considered derivations. (IANAL and guessing at that last statement).

To complicate matters further, if the person posting the code is not the original author of the code then you are still liable for stealing the code from wherever the original author got the code. So, some due diligence may be in order.

This is not to say that you should not attribute the authors since if you decide not to attribute them you would be conducting plagiarism and already be in violation of the license.

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Generally I add a link to the original question/answer in a comment above the code which was 'inspired'. For my own sake, as much as anyone else's.

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