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I'd like to emulate the voting mechanism used by Stack Overflow in my own website (i.e. users simply click a + or - and the vote is registered).

I wasn't planning on using "reputation" to start with but that's a possibility at a later date.

Can anybody please clarify if this is allowed? Where can I find copyright/licensing information? I don't want to use the ideas from Stack Overflow without permission.

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1  
Click contact us at the footer of this page and ask the team, if you want to clarify that. –  Ladybug Killer Nov 1 '09 at 22:32

8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Be careful -- our crack legal team will be watching you!

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14  
Are you saying your legal team is on crack? –  waffles Nov 1 '09 at 23:25
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I think he means their crack is on legal team. –  Tim Post Nov 2 '09 at 1:08
    
Thnks all for the answers - Aprpeciate it –  Basic Nov 2 '09 at 10:35

I don't think you can copyright ideas like this, despite some US patent lawyer's best efforts, only their implementation.

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The ideas here are already used in numerous other systems; the Stackoverflow team has said from the beginning their badges and reputation points system is based on XBOX LIVE.

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I do it on my blog (but in a difference sense)

I don't think you can copyright stuff like this.

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In addition to these other points, sites like Digg and Reddit were around long before SO.

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I watched this doco about some advertising guy in the 70s, his motto was "Its easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission"

I live by this motto these days.

Nobody will just sue you out of the blue, its too expensive. They will send you a cease and desist first.

The likelyhood of Jeff sending you such a letter is close to 0. He believes in mashing up ideas, the flagging system on SO is a mashup of ideas from craigslist, the badge system is a borrowed from the xbox 360.

So no, you will not be sued.

SO != Amazon.

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2  
That line was used in the episode "KABOOM" of Parks and Recreation as well. –  random Nov 1 '09 at 23:27
    
This being a computer-related site, you might want to look up Grace Hopper and what she did, that being one of her mottos. That being said, permission can get awfully expensive when you offend the wrong people. (Or, the Dilbert position, expressed in the last panel of a strip. Dilbert: "Did he say you could rip his heart out and sell it on eBay?" Alice: "Well...sorta.") –  David Thornley Nov 2 '09 at 17:54

Copyrights, at least in the United States, can't be applied to the voting system of stackoverflow. If you were going to try and protect it, it would have to be in the form of some kind of a patent. Probably in this case, it would be a method patent since so many of the individual aspects would fall under prior art and not be patentable as a design patent. However, generally speaking, to get a patent on something, the patent must be applied for (not necessarily granted) prior to public disclosure of the concept/idea otherwise it becomes no longer patentable and effectively into the public domain. So, in the end, unless a patent of some kind is already in process that we don't know about, you are good to go.

Note: The look of the site (not how it functions) can be and is actually copyrighted as you can see at the footer of each page, so you have to be careful not to plagiarize the graphic design of the site.

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As far as I know, SO does not own a patent covering a "method of scoring answers" or "method of calculating value of user submitted content" , or anything of the sort. This is one of the biggest reasons why the term intellectual property is so dangerous, its ambiguous.

When implementing some kind of new software, you should have the diligence to ask:

  1. Am I violating another's copyright?
  2. Am I violating another's patent(s)?
  3. Am I violating another's trademark ?

Copyright pertains to written works (which could later be performed in some way, i.e. by acting them out or recording as a song). Software is a written work. Unless you have the actual source code to SO itself, you are in no danger of violating copyright.

SO (afaik) does not hold a patent on any part of the user process.

Don't call your site stackoverflows or serverfaults, even just out of being a good neighbor. I'm not sure if either name is trade marked, If they got a trade mark for Stack Overflow, they had a really good lawyer.

Its worth taking some time to understand the differences between the three topics that are covered by the term intellectual property.

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I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that trademarking StackOverflow for a programming discussion site should be possible. It's a descriptive term in some contexts, but in this it's pretty much arbitrary. (Trademarking ProgrammingBlog would be a real challenge here.) –  David Thornley Nov 2 '09 at 3:59
    
@David Thornley: A year and a half ago, I would have thought the same. I've had some recent dealings with the US PTO, they are extremely picky about what they call 'industry colloquialisms' in a candidate to receive a trade mark. But, like you, IANAL .. however I have had to pay some recently :) –  Tim Post Nov 2 '09 at 13:19

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