Apparently the conclusion on licensing is that users implicitly license their content to StackOverflow under cc-wiki. However, it was months after posting on StackOverflow that I ever noticed the fine print that user content was licensed under cc-wiki, and I still haven't seen anything warning the user about this or asking them to license their content to StackOverflow under cc-wiki.

If the agreement is that users license their content under cc-wiki, why won't StackOverflow say this somewhere and ask for agreement? Let me be perfectly clear what I mean since no one seems to get it. There are several issues that need to be nailed down. Who owns the content? Under what license does StackOverflow make use of the content? Under what license does StackOverflow license the content to others? Precisely one of these questions is answered: what license StackOverflow makes the content available to others under. Without you first licensing the content to StackOverflow though, they don't have any right to make this license to others, but StackOverflow never asks you to license your content to them nor even states that you are doing so. The only thing they state is that they will license your content to others under cc-wiki. What possible right do they have to do this if I haven't first licensed my content to them? At the very least, the notice could be changed to "user-submitted content is licensed to StackOverflow under cc-wiki and redistributed under cc-wiki as well." Otherwise this is all just hand-waving and hoping no one sues, because StackOverflow has entered into absolutely no legal agreement with me yet they think they can relicense my content.

Furthermore, without asking for this agreement, how does StackOverflow come to the conclusion that they have received this license? I think the implicit agreement argument is BS because of how tucked away in the fine print the license terms are.

I don't want to discuss whether or not cc-wiki is a good choice, and I've given up on trying to get StackOverflow to explain how they can assume a license they never asked for. I just want to know one thing. What could it possibly hurt to warn users that you assume this license and to make the agreement explicit rather than implicit?

4 Answers 4


why won't StackOverflow say this somewhere

They do, at the bottom of every page on the site as you noted.

I think the implicit agreement argument is BS because of how tucked away in the fine print the license terms are.

A notice on every page you visit is hardly tucked away. But that aside, you're posting code on a public web site where it will be visible to anyone. Making the code available publicly is the whole point. How can you really expect a more restrictive license?

  • 2
    The agreement could be on sign up. Almost all sites do this. It really isn't much friction. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:41
  • Noticed that, removed the last part. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:41
  • 3
    So the reason I care is this, StackOverflow says user submitted content is licensed to other under cc-wiki. This doesn't mean it is licensed to StackOverflow under cc-wiki. Maybe StackOverflow thinks it is taking ownership of your content when you submit it. Who knows. They never say. Also, the license notice is clearly missable, because I missed it for months. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:45
  • 3
    AFAIK you can't assign a copyright that way. You still have full copyright on anything you post, simply because SO can't take it from you that easily. The worst thing you might be doing is giving SO permission to also do anything they want with the code, even if it falls outside of the cc-wiki license. But they can't also deny you use and they can't deny use to others who may have already used code posted to the site. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:49
  • 2
    @Daniel: you do not have to sign up. Your content is cc-wiki nevertheless. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:53

I don't really see that much of a "fine print" issue, the footer is the traditional place to put that kind of information, and there's a pretty big CC-wiki logo down there too.

From a legal standpoint (like DrJokepu I'm not a lawyer so don't quote me on this to anyone who can sue me) I think that by submitting your information willingly through the internets, you agree to anything that the site claims they can do with it anywhere on that page, and EVERY page you submit on has that notice at the bottom.

Is your argument that there should be a dialog to agree every time, or even the first time you write an entry on SO? If so I think Jeff would point you to his blog about dialogs, and how great they are at doing nothing.

EDIT: I didn't realize that on signup you don't agree to TOS these days, I did it awhile back and couldn't remember. I'd agree with that on signup, but I think that's all you'd really need. The information available on every page is enough of a reminder each time you post, I think.

  • 1
    My argument is that you should agree somewhere. I don't care where. Most sites do it on sign up. StackOverflow has no agreement on sign up. Wikipedia does it with a checkbox on each edit. That would be fine. Also, saying user submitted content is licensed under cc-wiki does not say anything about how content is licensed to StackOverflow, only how it is licensed to others. This is why sites have TOS in the first place, because this stuff isn't trivial or implicit. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:38
  • 1
    Are you saying that the agreement or your answers are not trivial or implicit? In my opinion, you're participating on a community-driven site, so as per Jeff's blog : codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001295.html I think there's a reasonable expectation that the user realizes that their content is now available via digital copy to anyone with an internet connection, so from a pragmatic (if not legal) standpoint, let the poster beware. I personally reject (on principle) the idea of a checkbox for every entry, but I think I'd agree with adding a TOS on signup that points it out.
    – NateDSaint
    Oct 27, 2009 at 13:48
  • So you're asking for one of those walls of text that no one reads even when its half a screen of double-spaced text?
    – AnonJr
    Oct 27, 2009 at 13:49
  • 1
    I'm asking for anything at all. Read the edits I made to the original post to see what StackOverflow isn't saying that they need to say. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:51
  • Stack overflow provides 2 links (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5) to the CC license and what it entails. They also post a link to their attribution required standing (blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/06/attribution-required) in the blog, so I think they're diclosing all of that to you in the form of a user-friendly "if you want to know more, click me" web-like format.
    – NateDSaint
    Oct 27, 2009 at 13:55
  • @AnonJr I think in the spirit of keeping things simple, SO could do something like this on signup: []Check here if you agree to a [hyperlink]cc-wiki license[/hyperlink]
    – NateDSaint
    Oct 27, 2009 at 14:00
  • Except as noted, you do not have to sign up to ask/contribute. Its those very interruptions that Jeff/Joel were trying to remove. 99.999% of the time you're at one of these sites because you have a problem, and you need a solution. You're not going to read or bother with anything that gets in your way. Adding some CYA checkbox isn't going to solve anything.
    – AnonJr
    Oct 27, 2009 at 14:18
  • 2
    It's going to solve something for people that care. People that don't will just check the box (or you can even have it checked by default... or it can even just be a notice ("by submitting, you agree to license this content to SO under cc-wiki")). For people who care, it's nice to know what the actual legal agreement is. Oct 27, 2009 at 14:22
  • @AnonJr I meant to only have that checkbox at the point of signup, NOT during individual answers, as I feel like that would be way overkill. But I wouldn't be opposed to being made aware of the cc-wiki link when I sign up. Maybe not even a checkbox, just a link next to the submit button, becuase I'd read that cause I'm a huge nerd, but anyone who wants to ignore it totally can. How much value it adds? I couldn't say. I think the links at the footer are plenty for ongoing CYA and fair disclosure, but it's good to know what you're getting into at the start of things.
    – NateDSaint
    Oct 27, 2009 at 15:22

First thing, legal advice is best gotten from a lawyer, and I'm not a lawyer. I'm assuming you're not looking for actual legal advice here.

Reading the bottom of the page, "user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required", with links. I'd read that as saying that what I contribute is licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required, and that's how SO etc. license my contributions.

SO can't apply a license to my contributions. I never assigned copyright, and they don't pay me anything so this isn't work-for-hire. Therefore, the copyright on anything I put here remains with me, and I'm the only one who can license it. SO can refuse my contributions unless I license under cc-wiki.

I don't know if this would be considered sufficient legal notice. I haven't heard of any court cases testing such implied licenses, and I don't think there's specifically applicable law in the US. Again, you'd have to consult a lawyer, and you're very likely to get an answer of "maybe" with a substantial bill attached.

In case anybody cares, I hereby license all my contributions to StackOverflow, MetaStackOverflow, ServerFault, and SuperUser under the aforementioned cc-wiki with attribution license. I also license any code snippets I put in for unlimited use for any purpose with or without attribution.

  • 2
    You have a contradiction here which proves the whole point that this is a problem. You say you assume SO licenses your contributions under cc-wiki, but you also say that you as the copyright holder are the only one that can license your content. Which is it? Who knows? Oct 27, 2009 at 14:10
  • 1
    Two different meanings of license. Both Microsoft and I can be said to license a copy of Windows XP, but we're in very different legal positions. I'm the only one who can issue a license, and StackOverflow can use my contributions under a license. Oct 27, 2009 at 15:57
  • 2
    But StackOverflow is claiming to license user-submitted content under cc-wiki and demanding that attribution be made not just to the author but to StackOverflow. If you're the only one that can license your content, then you should be outraged because StackOverflow is relicensing it without your (explicit) permission. Oct 27, 2009 at 17:08

If you look at the bottom of the site, it clearly states that

user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required

By submitting content to this site, you implicitly agree to its terms and conditions. There is no need to bother users with explicitly asking them for a licence agreement.

(Please note that I am not a lawyer and this is not a legal advice whatsoever etc)

  • 1
    Two things. 1. Fine print in colors that wouldn't pass color contrast analysis is not clearly stating something. 2. This still doesn't explain what license you are implicitly making to StackOverflow. It only specifies what license StackOverflow is making to others. For all you know, StackOverflow may be implicitly assuming complete ownership of your content. There is most definitely a need to make explicit what the relationship is. I pretty much only post trivial stuff on StackOverflow because of this nonchalant attitude toward submitters' rights. Oct 27, 2009 at 13:29
  • 4
    @Daniel: Out of curiosity, what type of "non-trivial" stuff are you worried about losing ownership of? Oct 27, 2009 at 13:40
  • @GraemePerrow Nobody is worried about losing ownership. The worry here is that all it might take is a single backwards-minded judge from a supplementary sub-district somewhere to take down the whole site because they might see it as reasonable that contributors were not given due notice about re-licensing their contributions. It doesn't matter what "we all" think; what matters is what one judge and one jury thinks (after lots of priming by lawyers). Nov 10, 2017 at 2:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .