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The term of service of stackoverflow add "additonal terms" to creative commons license. In this question Are the SE additions to the Creative Commons attribution requirements enforceable? the answer was this clause was not enforceable. Is it possible that beyond not being enforceable, this clause is actually a breach in license terms, which would make the whole license terminate. After termination, a creative commons license should be basically useless, for the purpose redistribution term.

Here are what I call "additional terms" added on stackoverflow term of service.

In the event that You post or otherwise use Subscriber Content outside of the Network or Services, with the exception of content entirely created by You, You agree that You will follow the attribution rules of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license as follows:

You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually displays or otherwise indicates the source of the Subscriber Content as coming from the Stack Exchange Network. This requirement is satisfied with a discreet text blurb, or some other unobtrusive but clear visual indication.

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content includes a hyperlink directly to the original question on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/questions/12345)

You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually display or otherwise clearly indicate the author names for every question and answer so used.

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content Hyperlink each author name directly back to his or her user profile page on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/users/12345/username), directly to the Stack Exchange domain, in standard HTML (i.e. not through a Tinyurl or other such indirect hyperlink, form of obfuscation or redirection), without any “nofollow” command or any other such means of avoiding detection by search engines, and visible even with JavaScript disabled.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Xavier Combelle, ale, Ward, Glorfindel, Robert Longson Sep 13 '17 at 6:34

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Not really sure what this is all about, but I am sure that the millions of people posting on Stack Overflow and the other SE sites are NOT criminals. As you said yourself, you are not a lawyer. Neither am I. So let's not speculate about things we don't know about. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Sep 3 '17 at 7:18
  • That said, if you're REALLY into this, hire a real lawyer. Let him skim through all those things. If the lawyer says for certain that what you say is true and we're all criminals, then we're indeed in trouble here. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Sep 3 '17 at 7:19
  • @ShaWizDowArd I probably will hire a real lawyer. As I precised in the initial question, my analysis is that it is stackexchange company which made something illegal damaging the contributors. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 7:39
  • "makes you distribute the contributors illegally" - the word "you" is usually the reader, e.g. me. If you mean something else, use the full and actual name of that something else. If you want to address SE in private, send them email then you can use "you" safely. This site in NOT a "contact us" form, i.e. the questions posted here are meant for everyone to see and read, not only Stack Exchange staff. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Sep 3 '17 at 7:41
  • @ShaWizDowArd I should have make it clear. sorry, I am often unclear on my wording, adding that, I made a blatant mistake in my initial post, and to complicate all I'm french so it is not obvious to be clear in a foreign language especially in a domain I'm not specialist. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 7:45
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    I see, fair enough. Still, your claim seems absurd, as I'm sure Stack Exchange has their own lawyer who goes over those things and confirms them. Hence the downvotes here. (i.e. they're not just from bad grammar) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Sep 3 '17 at 7:47
  • Actually the lawyers are likely to stand up on their client side. And moreover, the copyright and free license matters are very hard to get right. I really doubt that the stackexchange lawyer are not able to miss some point. as I explained I was aware of this particular clause in the term of use of stackoverflow and never wondered up to this point if it was legal. So up to the point the stackexchange lawyer looks on my particular claim, I will reserve my judgment on stackexchange lawyers advices. Moreover, ultimately it is not the lawyers who decide how interpret the legal things but judges. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 7:55
  • You should try contacting the staff: meta.stackexchange.com/contact – Anthony Pham Sep 3 '17 at 11:09
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    You might be interested in this meta post, where a very similar issue is discussed (about an SE blog post, not about the TOS, but the same topic). Most of the attribution requirements in the TOS are pretty much the same as the ones in the licence, but there are some that I consider problematic. – Mad Scientist Sep 3 '17 at 12:05
  • a) Any competent lawyer is going to tell their client if they have a major legal risk in the basic ToS. b) There's a cutoff sentence after the last blockquote, and your logic chain has problems. – Nathan Tuggy Sep 3 '17 at 12:51
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    You are wondering about the difference between this post being downvoted so much vs "Are the SE additions to the Creative Commons attribution requirements enforceable?" being highly upvoted. The difference - that one is asking the question, this post, however was blaming SE of doing "unfair and illegal" things (the title has been edited from its more inflammatory version). At least that's just my opinion. You profess to not have any idea about law, and yet - talk of these things as factual - that too rubs people the wrong way. – Oded Sep 3 '17 at 15:31
  • @Oded Thanks a lot, for your indications, I tried to improve my question according your remarks, I must say it is very hard to improve a question without nobody downvoting it making a comment to explain the weak points. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 16:05
  • @XavierCombelle - You attempt to make legal conclusions after saying you are not a lawyer. It isn't hard to guess that is the reason your proposal/rant is being downvoted. – Ramhound Sep 4 '17 at 1:43
  • @Ramhound, it is fair enough, I extracted the whole answer part as a self answer. Removing all the warning that I am not a lawyer, to be judged only on the arguments (to my knowledge the other answerers neither are, one of them even made the same warning ). and I removed all unrelated personal information, which I only add for the context which I suppose makes you call my proposal a rant. Hope the question fit the meta standard now. – Xavier Combelle Sep 5 '17 at 4:22
  • @XavierCombelle What made it a rant was its tone. – Ramhound Sep 5 '17 at 4:32
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Your basis for arguing a legal problem appears to be that CC-BY-SA forbids "You" from adding any additional restrictions besides attribution-related ones.

There are two problems with this. The first is of course that SE's additional terms are quite clearly attribution-related, which your post admits by calling them the "attribution clause". The second is that you have the wrong understanding of "You" in CC-BY-SA and are identifying the wrong party's responsibilities. It's restricting the final user of the content from using their attribution display for anything involving implied sponsorship or similar. So if I published a book made from SE material (perfectly legal, without compensating SE or any contributors at all), I would have to properly attribute everything, but could not claim it was published by SE in doing so. It has nothing to do with the party granting the license to use at all. The term "You" is capitalized to avoid confusion in the license and does not change its meaning throughout.

There is no problem here, or if there is, it's a lot subtler than your post allows for, and you've shown no evidence for it.

  • Sorry for the confusion, as I tried to clarify. Can you look if your answer still apply ? – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 15:01
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I am not a lawyer, but have some awareness of contract law after 15 years having to negotiate contracts, and nothing in here is even close to illegal. I think the extent of your knowledge is the problem - so you should check with your lawyer.

You can contribute anything you like to Stack Exchange content, and there is an understanding that any return you get from it is in the form of rep (from the community, not from SE) and privileges as a by product of rep - but once posted, the content on this site is no longer yours.

You have agreed to that. It doesn't matter what SE decide to do with the content - they have an irrevocable licence to do with it what they like.

Your recourse if you don't like the terms is to not post content. It is that simple.

  • 3
    SE does not actually claim ownership of the content at all. What it does have is an irrevocable license, which is a very different thing, legally. (In particular, you can still do anything you like with any copies you wish to make of your own work. Obviously.) – Nathan Tuggy Sep 3 '17 at 12:52
  • Thanks Nathan - you are correct. I have updated accordingly. – Rory Alsop Sep 3 '17 at 13:03
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    The phrase "is no longer yours" should be updated as well. Posters have copyright for their contributions. – Josh Caswell Sep 3 '17 at 13:31
  • We have copyright for our contributions, yes, but the post itself can be changed by any member of the community. – Rory Alsop Sep 3 '17 at 14:40
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    "they have an irrevocable licence to do with it what they like." Wrong: the license is not what ever they like, they have to respect the terms of the license, as soon as they don't the license terminate (see the quote added). "the content on this site is no longer yours." Neither true. you have the right to license it to someone else for example. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 14:52
  • The point is that I totally agree to post content available under CC-BY-SA 3.0 , so I did it. As an author, what they do with it, is not my problem up to the point they don't break the term of the license. Sadly enough they break it as soon as I post my content. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 14:55
  • The community can actually do anything they like with the content. Editing is encouraged - and while the intent is to not change the meaning, but improve posts, in theory you could end up with a post that has none of the original text in it. Unlikely but possible. – Rory Alsop Sep 3 '17 at 16:13
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    @XavierCombelle: The license is irrevocable, meaning that someone cannot turn around and take back what they granted. That is, there is no "revoking" action anyone can take that will legally force SE to remove their posts that were originally properly contributed. I suspect you mean, or should mean, that it is not unconditional, though, and can be breached, causing termination. – Nathan Tuggy Sep 3 '17 at 20:45
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The solution to the matter is somewhat addressed here (though with no answer). The problem is that there seems to be a conflict between what CC SA 3.0 says (the relevant bits are in §4), and what the SE TOS says. One condition of the CC license is that

You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that restrict the terms of this License or the ability of the recipient of the Work to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License.

This means that according to the CC license, if material was copied to SE under that CC license, SE cannot impose additional restrictions, such as the requirement to link to user profile:

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content Hyperlink each author name directly back to his or her user profile page on the source site on the Network

as well as the peculiar requirement to link to the question, not the quoted answer:

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content includes a hyperlink directly to the original question on the source site on the Network

Also missing from the SE license is the CC self-perpetuation clause (required under CC) and the no-change language.

The confusion no doubt arises from looking just at this part of the SE license:

You agree that all Subscriber Content that You contribute to the Network is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

However, there is in §13 a merger clause:

This Agreement (including the Privacy Policy), as modified from time to time, constitutes the entire agreement between You, the Network and Stack Exchange with respect to the subject matter hereof. This Agreement replaces all prior or contemporaneous understandings or agreements, written or oral, regarding the subject matter hereof.

The CC license gives rise to one understanding, but the SE license differs: it explicitly says what form the attribution must take. The SE license incorporates most terms by reference (to the CC license) but also explicitly states its own terms. The merger clause effectively says "what we say goes". When there is an apparent contradiction in what you would understand the agreement to be according to CC, and what it would be according to SE, it is what SE says that counts.

Suppose that a user were to post content copied from elsewhere, where that content was under the unvarnished CC SA license. The user is obligated to reproduce or link to that license, and then anyone who sees the material on SE knows what the terms are for using that material. The fact of having posted external content on SE does not eliminate the original license conditions. However, the user's own content is subject to a different license. SE could rewrite the TOS to copy in virtually all of the CC but change those bits that it wants to. But that is unnecessary: 95% of the terms can be incorporated by reference, the remaining that are to be changed are explicitly changed in the SE TOS.

  • I must be partial, but this is the best answer so far, based on text and not what they feel right. (actually it should have help that I clarify the question) For nitpicking, there is no SE license but TOS. You let a point in the air, that is if the license terminate or not by breaching this terms breach and as such if an user is able to contest the uses that stackexchange company made of his work without agreement by the user. – Xavier Combelle Sep 3 '17 at 17:03
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Basically yes, according to all right granted to stack exchange in particular the right to redistribute the work. The grant agreement is the 3. of the license which doesn't survive to the termination. There is some bits of the license which survive, but it is just to enforce the no warranty clause (5.), the liability clause (6.) and the termination clause (7.)

Here is my reasoning.

First here in the term of service of stack exchange https://stackexchange.com/legal is the license the author of content gave to stackexchange.

You agree that all Subscriber Content that You contribute to the Network is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. You grant Stack Exchange the perpetual and irrevocable right and license to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and, except as otherwise set forth herein, to allow others to do so in any medium now known or hereinafter developed (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services, even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by You.

"You" refer here as an user behaving as an author.

As far as I understand, the only licence given to stackexchange by users as an author is the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode )

As the most famous GPL license, CC-BY-SA has a copyleft term, implying the right given in the license can't be removed.

CC-BY-SA 3.0 text in 4.a "You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that restrict the terms of this License or the ability of the recipient of the Work to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License." (Here You reference to the distributor of the work hence stackoverflow company)

"You" here is stand for the stackexchange company

Among these right, there is a particular right on 4(c) of CC-BY-SA 3.0 license

The credit required by this Section 4(c) may be implemented in any reasonable manner;" (extract of CC-BY-SA 3.0 terms)

And this is the right for an user to implement it in ****any**** reasonable manner. This right is is restricted by the following enforcement in the same term of service of stackexchange

In the event that You post or otherwise use Subscriber Content outside of the Network or Services, with the exception of content entirely created by You, You agree that You will follow the attribution rules of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license as follows:

You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually displays or otherwise indicates the source of the Subscriber Content as coming from the Stack Exchange Network. This requirement is satisfied with a discreet text blurb, or some other unobtrusive but clear visual indication.

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content includes a hyperlink directly to the original question on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/questions/12345)

You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually display or otherwise clearly indicate the author names for every question and answer so used.

You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content Hyperlink each author name directly back to his or her user profile page on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/users/12345/username), directly to the Stack Exchange domain, in standard HTML (i.e. not through a Tinyurl or other such indirect hyperlink, form of obfuscation or redirection), without any “nofollow” command or any other such means of avoiding detection by search engines, and visible even with JavaScript disabled.

"You" here refer to user of content and especially redistributor of content.

So my step conclusion is that the stackexchange company break the term of the license. So the following part of the license should apply:

This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically upon any breach by You of the terms of this License. Individuals or entities who have received Adaptations or Collections from You under this License, however, will not have their licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain in full compliance with those licenses. Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 will survive any termination of this License.

At this point, only sections 1,2,5,6,7,8 survive, It is essentially to make sure that the termination clause (7.) stay without removing the no warranty clause (5.), and the liability clause (6.) which protect the sender of the license. Basically all the purpose of the license is left and in particular the license grant (3.) which give to stackexchange right to distribute the work doesn't stand anymore.

To address a comment given bellow, there is no custom licence of stackoverflow in the term of service. The only licence given by an user about it's "Subscriber Content" is explicitely the "Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike" (with a link to CC-BY-SA) as it is quoted in the first extract given in this answer.

To address the other comment given by same user, the stackoverflow doesn't add additional term to the licence, but add restriction in the way the user can use the distributed work.

CC-BY-SA 3.0 text in 4.a "You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that restrict the terms of this License or the ability of the recipient of the Work to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License." (Here You reference to the distributor of the work hence stackoverflow company)

"offer or impose any terms on the works" is not limited to modifying the license (actually you are not allowed to modify the license.) It include all other means including the part of the term of service;

Note that stackoverflow doesn't receive a license different than CC-BY-SA 3.0 He just ask only for this license. He just add additional terms to the license by another way (the term of service) which apply only to the redistributor of the work. Adding this terms makes a breach on the license which make it terminate for the stackoverflow purpose.

  • Note that this only applies to content posted elsewhere under CC-BY-SA and then also posted on SO. Original content posted to SO can use SO's own custom licence (which would be similar to, but not strictly the same as, CC-BY-SA), meaning that this only actually applies to a very tiny portion of the content on SO (especially considering that a significant portion of CC-BY-SA content posted to SO will be fair use, and so won't require using that licence in order to be a legal copy). – Servy Sep 5 '17 at 14:46
  • @Sevvy I address your comment by adding a precision related to your remark which is in my opinion totally wrong. – Xavier Combelle Sep 12 '17 at 17:47
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    So it's your assertion that SE only uses the CC-WIki license, and doesn't add any additional licence criteria? In that case, there is no issue, and there is nothing to discuss here, as the premise of the question is apparently flawed. – Servy Sep 12 '17 at 17:48
  • I address your subsequent comment. – Xavier Combelle Sep 12 '17 at 18:00
  • So you do recognize that SE is providing its own licence (where that licence is defined as the CC licence with a few additional restrictions tacked on), and not strictly using the CC license, and therefore my comment applies. – Servy Sep 12 '17 at 19:29
  • @Sevvy SE provide it's own terms, but never received form the author creator, so from the creator point of view only CC-BY-SA license apply. By adding additional terms, on redistribution, SE breach the license and terminate it. – Xavier Combelle Sep 14 '17 at 4:12
  • Yes, that's exactly what I said in my first comment. Since SE applies a different licence than the CC license to the content provided, anyone posting content licenced by the CC license elsewhere, to which they aren't the owner of, can't post it here (unless it's in a fair use case) since SE doesn't apply the right license. Of course, none of this is any problem for content posted by the owner (which will be the vast majority of the content posted here). This is a problem, but just for a very tiny fraction of the content on the site. – Servy Sep 14 '17 at 13:13
  • @Sevvy The problem is that SE can't change the license the author submit his work to whatever it want license. And the only agreement between author and SE is that content is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 – Xavier Combelle Sep 15 '17 at 5:50
  • We've already been over this. Clearly it's not the case that the only agreement between an author and SE is the CC licence. If it were, you would have no problem in the first place. The whole problem here from the beginning is that SE doesn't just require the CC licence, it requires a (very slightly) different licence due to it's additional restrictions. Once again, that does mean that one cannot reproduce content posted elsewhere with the CC licence here, as you won't have the right to add the additional restrictions, not being the author; but if you are the author, then it's fine. – Servy Sep 15 '17 at 13:15
  • Please read the TOS, the only agreement between author and SE in it is basically the author release it's work under CC-BY-SA to stackoverflow. Stackoverflow is precisely not the author so can't add additional restriction. In the author agreement there is no mention of additional restriction. Now I will stop to debate with you. – Xavier Combelle Sep 16 '17 at 10:52
  • Please read your own question. We've been over this like three times now. SE isn't just applying the CC license to content posted. That's the whole problem you're trying to point out to begin with. If there is nothing but the CC license applied to user contributed content then your whole question makes no sense. You really need to stop contradicting yourself in every single comment you post. – Servy Sep 16 '17 at 14:46

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