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I posted a question on StackOverflow asking if there were any libraries/open source code/tips on how to meet the requirements for a project I am currently working on for my company.

I didn't receive any helpful responses, so I came up with my own plan and received approval from the team to code it.

I spent the better part of two days writing, testing and debugging code to perform the very thing I was asking about. However, because this was billable time for my company, the code is not free nor open source; it is owned by my company and I cannot post it under the cc-wiki license.

What is the best way to handle my question? Should I just answer it and say "I figured this out on my own"? I can't think of a better way to get downvoted :-)

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Again, a meta question I was torn between the support and discussion tags. Anyone with enough rep, feel free to re-tag. – The Unhandled Exception Apr 6 '10 at 20:42
How about I just answer "I think you should code your own" and you accept my answer? :) – Jared Harley Apr 6 '10 at 21:44
@Jared: HA! That's very tempting :-) Post your comment as an answer and if it gets upvoted more than others I will! – The Unhandled Exception Apr 6 '10 at 21:48
up vote 11 down vote accepted

If you want to let people know that the question is solved but cannot actually post the solution, then I'd say to either edit the question or add a comment.

Or, even better, you could answer with just the basic outline of your solution (unless your whole problem was just translating an algorithm into code); you'd have to clear it with your company first, but it shouldn't be as hard as posting actual code.

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I had a similar situation a while ago. I asked this question, to which I got no satisfactory answers. After about a month of investigation and development (at work), I came up with a solution. I posted my results as an answer, but instead of just posting the code I described how I had implemented it. The answer just contains the ideas and techniques used - valuable (and probably more understandable than lots of code) to another user with the same original problem. Additionally, the answer contains no proprietary code that could be classed as owned by my employer.

I could probably have posted my code (as my employer would probably have given permission to do so), but I felt it more valuable to explain the approach I had taken instead of just posting code verbatim.

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I'm sorry but you haven't read the CC-Wiki license closely enough. Once you've asked a question about a problem any solution that you develop is subject to the CC-Wiki license and you are required to share the code with us.


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Did Richard Stallman write the CC-Wiki license? :-) – The Unhandled Exception Apr 6 '10 at 22:46

There's still value in getting an answer to the question you asked, so definitely leave it open.

As mmyers said, you can mention that you already rewrote it, or simply edit out the last line of the post. If someone comes back to the question months down the road, it's pretty obvious you went ahead with the rewrite.

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Getting permission to publish from your boss might be easy if you explain that using code fragments from any answer you might have used from SO, might in fact require attribution as well...?

(Remember, the footer at each page states user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required where the first link also refers to Attribution-Share Alike.)

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Unfortunately there is no upside to the boss saying yes. It's just plain easier to say no. And I wouldn't talk about the attribution thing, as the end result might be "stop using this site!" – user27414 Apr 6 '10 at 21:01
That post about attribution applies to use of the SO data dump, btw. Attibution for use of a single answer should be much simpler, since it is CC-licensed by the author, not by SO. SO cannot require any attribution, since it is not the copyright holder. The problem isn't the attribution, it's the share-alike. If your code really is a derivative work of a SO answer, then it may only be distributed under the same or a similar license. GPL would be unacceptable, never mind non-free code. So make sure it is not a derivative work (unless it's one of my answers - they're free of any obligation :-) – Steve Jessop Apr 6 '10 at 22:04
@Steve, I don't think you're right. Each page states user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required where the first link also refers to Attribution-Share Alike. – Arjan Apr 7 '10 at 17:02
Sorry, I was unclear. Attribution to the licensor is required, yes, but that's a lesser practical problem than share-alike. If using a single answer, the licensor is not Stack Overflow, it's the author. Stack Overflow only has copyright (and hence licensing rights) in the compilation. Or not? Anyway, that post linked to was about other sites using the data-dump to simulate SO, not about programmers using code snippets in their work. I believe different licensors apply. For instance if you want my snippets under some other license you can just ask me, neither of us needs SO's permission. – Steve Jessop Apr 8 '10 at 10:38
I'm no expert on copyrights, though. If I take a public domain work, let's say Hamlet, and email you a copy, and you quote Polonius from that email, do you have to pay me royalties, on grounds that I own copyright in the email, even though I got the part you quoted from a public domain source, and you could have got the same quote from elsewhere? This situation is somewhat similar: does SO have exclusivity on their reporting of my comments? If so, they can require an attribution to SO when you use my answers. Otherwise, SO has no right to pick a license - the T&Cs don't demand copyright. – Steve Jessop Apr 8 '10 at 10:46
... they just demand that SO be able to republish using the stated license. I guess the fundamental question in law is, can you "strip away" the derived parts of their derived work, leaving you with my original work, licensed by me under cc-by-sa (or actually in my case under more permissive terms, as per my user page). – Steve Jessop Apr 8 '10 at 10:49

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