I hope my question isn't out of line, but I'm really curious about a truly hypothetical situation.

Let's say I'm writing an application and I need some information, so I come to SO and search for something and I find an answer and I copy some code and paste it into my application. I assume that if I did this, I'd need to provide attribution on an About page and I'd need to license my app under CC BY-SA 3.0 or similar.

But what if I know most of what I need, but there's one small detail. I could copy and paste it into my application, as suggested above, but it's so small, just an aha, that's how you do it that it fits into my brain and later I remember it well enough that I can reproduce that notion in my code. Would I have the same obligation of attribution and licensing I'd have if I'd actually copied the code?

EDIT: I want to make clear I'm not seeking a legal opinion, just wondering what people think about the situation.

  • This will probably depend on the jurisdiction. My guess is that in most countries, the answer is "no"... anyway, it's a law question rather than a CC question, and Meta is probably not the place to get a good answer. – Pëkka Mar 19 '12 at 13:15
  • Good point, I'll edit my question to make clear that I'm not looking for a legal opinion. – dldnh Mar 19 '12 at 13:17

I am not a lawyer.

While I don't think your assumptions are entirely correct about the implications of copy & pasting a small code snippet (see Threshold of origininality), I'm fairly sure the answer to your question is "no".

I am not a lawyer.

CC-BY-SA is a copyright license. You can have copyright on actual code, but not on the idea. Ideas aren't copyrightable.

Did I mention that I am not a lawyer?

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    Thanks, I appreciate the double-disclaimer. :-) And I've clarified the question because I really am not looking for a legal opinion. – dldnh Mar 19 '12 at 13:19
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    Balpha that's a cool answer. How do you come up with this stuff? Are you a lawyer or something? – Pëkka Mar 19 '12 at 13:20
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    Cases like this always remind me that German is a beautiful language as well. Schöpfungshöhe (literally: height of creation) is so much more poetic than Threshold of Originality – Pëkka Mar 19 '12 at 13:25
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    @Pekka - Most languages have more elegant ways of expressing these sorts of concepts than English does. Rather than take the best parts of the languages it's built from, English seems to have taken the worst parts more often than not. – cdeszaq Mar 19 '12 at 13:31

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