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Fifteen days ago, it was suddenly announced that the user-contributed content on Stack Exchange had been relicensed as CC BY SA 4.0.

The change took immediate and retroactive effect and is still in place.

However, serious concerns were immediately raised about the legality and morality of this change.

To date, there has been no further engagement from Stack Exchange, Inc. on this subject, and consequently there is no indication as to whether these concerns are being considered.

Due to the legal nature of the issue I would understand if Stack Exchange, Inc. has opted to consult their legal partners before making any further statements on the topic.

If that is the case, I respectfully suggest that (at the very least) a short statement to that effect would be in order, as it has already been more than two weeks that the content has been [potentially illegally] re-licensed network-wide. Every day that this is the case, more content is posted, and if indeed the re-licensing of older content is ultimately deemed non-compliant, the technical can of worms involved in remedying the situation grows in mass and squirmishness.

If it is not the case, are there any plans to revisit this topic and feed back to the community as to what the next steps may be to resolve this dispute?

If there are no such plans, please consider that this is not just bikeshedding or whining or complaining or trolling. Licensing of our content, which to a large degree is the Stack Exchange Network, is a serious issue and deserves to be treated seriously.

And, if Stack Exchange, Inc. deems the concerns to be without merit, will we hear a confirmation of that so that we can proceed on that basis?

  • 27
    Thanks for asking this. I've been checking daily to see if there has been a response and I find it very concerning that only the crickets are making noise. – NathanOliver Sep 20 at 12:52
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog There is nothing about CC BY-SA 4.0 that I object to. What I do object to is that the license I have granted to SE has been changed by SE without any sort of warning or consultation. I gave permission for them to use CC BY-SA 3.0, not CC BY-SA 4.0. – NathanOliver Sep 20 at 12:58
  • 52
    A bit of a side observation: SE has spent heavily on their goodwill and trust in the last year and change. This would likely still be a somewhat contentious change, but many more users would overall trust SE and subside with a bit of grumbling. Now, though...it's unfortunate, but there is a whole lot less goodwill and trust to draw from. It will take transparency (not only in this aspect) to regain that trust. – fbueckert Sep 20 at 13:08
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    Being a product support specialist, animuson is almost surely not privy to that information, anyway. The way I read his comment, all available context considered, was that he was just ticked off at the response people were having to an announcement by his company. – TylerH Sep 20 at 14:58
  • 39
    @TylerH: I hate to say it, but as mentioned upthread, SE has spent down its stock of goodwill, and no longer has the right to complain about that. They should go into these announcements expecting people to respond negatively, and be pleasantly surprised if that doesn't happen. I don't like it, but that's the way things are right now. – Kevin Sep 20 at 21:13
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    @ouflak By my understanding, as an EU citizen (just about) that whole "mandatory arbitration" thing is non-binding for me anyway. It's an example of a thing you can't just stick in a TOS and say "that's it, we're safe". – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 23 at 10:15
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    If it is of any use to anybody, I am an EU citizen (for atleast a few more weeks anyway) and an American citizen, and I have specifically opted out of the arbitration. The EU question of applicability could still perhaps be debated. I don't believe my opt-out is debatable. Nor was I ever asked permission to transfer any of my previous content to any new license. – ouflak Sep 23 at 10:22
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog If Stackexchange can unilaterily relicense BY-SA 3.0 to CC BY-SA 4.0, what is to stop them from relicensing it again to "we own everything"? I'm not sure I feel comfortable contributing to a site that can do that. – Wowfunhappy Sep 24 at 1:10
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    Besides, polling five people on meta is irrelevant. Any person who has contributed in the past may have a disagreement with CC BY-SA 4.0. We just can't know. The whole point of licence agreements is that the terms of use are set in stone from the outset, so that you don't have to go around polling everybody for their opinions many years later: you just read the licence to know what they've agreed to. When a licence agreement is violated, that betrays the whole system, and this is something that a business literally founded on strong software development principles and practices ought to know. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 24 at 10:58
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    "Will...?" So far not. (see meta.stackexchange.com/a/333745/260073) – Trilarion Sep 24 at 12:19
  • 5
    Noice, authorative reference notice removed by staff. Lucky me it's archived: web.archive.org/web/20190928130246/https://… – Zoe the transgirl Sep 29 at 10:44
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    @PrincessOlivia The Wayback machine is "coincidentally" missing all captures of this page between the day the bounty was cast, and the day after the CM removed the bounty text. It has one or more captures on every other day. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 30 at 15:35
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    They can't have-... whaa... The URL points to a capture on the 28th, but the archive redirected to one on the 29th. That means they somehow intentionally got it removed. – Zoe the transgirl Sep 30 at 15:39
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    @PrincessOlivia Good spot! Oh, my. That's rather frightening. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 30 at 15:52
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    It goes with the news that SE engineers were manually removing stars from dissenting opinions in moderator chat. I mean that's just ridiculous. Seriously, come on guys. It gains you nothing and loses you everything, as we're now seeing. Add on freezing of the meta room so that nobody can talk any more. You're literally waging a war against the very people who create the content you're trying to make money off. Duh. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 30 at 21:46
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+50

One week later...

Okay, well, I guess we have our answer.

To say that I am disappointed in this company's behaviour would be a gross understatement.

I tried to politely offer the option of direct discourse, and you ignored me.

Shame on you. We'll see where this takes us next.

  • 2
    Wow! I did not wait this extraordinary attitude from you. :-) Btw, are you sure that this is the problem? I don't think that an unexpected change from "CC BY SA 3.0" to "CC BY SA 4.0" would be a serious violation. Although the SE probably can't do that. – user259412 Sep 27 at 4:29
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    @peterh That they "probably can't do that" and have so far decided not to speak a single word on the topic is exactly the problem. If my attitude seems extraordinary, that's because the situation is extraordinary. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 27 at 14:25
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    It's entirely possible that there is a long internal discussion taking place as to how to respond to this. But, as Monica Cellio once famously said on Medium, internal discussions mean nothing for the public record. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Sep 27 at 17:44
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    They actually don't have the right to change existing content licenses of content we own. meta.stackexchange.com/a/333094/285610 – mbomb007 Sep 27 at 18:22
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    Tim added a follow up answer on his post. It doesn't actually answer anything about the legalities so my conclusion is they aren't and won't unless legal action is taken. Maybe I'll just find a different site. – NathanOliver Sep 27 at 19:44
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Good morning! :-O – user259412 Sep 27 at 20:00
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    @NathanOliver Thanks for the link. And yeah. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 28 at 0:02
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    So what should be the course of action now for concerned users? An immediate class lawsuit would be impractical and expensive for everyone involved, but we could, for instance, announce a 24-hours 'strike' in which we abstain from all contributions to SE. If sufficiently advertised on the meta sites (with enough advance) it could gain some traction. – Federico Poloni Sep 29 at 15:52
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    @FedericoPoloni we have bigger problems than licensing atm. If it continues, the moderator force will be significantly reduced, and risks becoming non-existent on small sites. – Zoe the transgirl Sep 29 at 18:00
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    @PrincessOlivia Oh, my. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 30 at 10:26
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    @FedericoPoloni, that's not going to happen. (For context in case the linked comment is deleted—someone already attempted to create such a Meta post, calling for a strike, and Tim Post deleted it and said it would have to be done on a separate website or blog. Which frankly makes sense to me.) – Wildcard Sep 30 at 18:47
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    "We'll see where this takes us next." I fear it takes us into the realm of prolonged legal uncertainty. I think that a lawsuit is actually the only reasonable, but unfortunately expensive action left to clarify the matter (short of giving up). – Trilarion Oct 1 at 10:22
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    @Trilarion I'm still hoping the EFF can help us. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 1 at 10:26
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit The EFF is not interested in taking up the case. They have forwarded my concerns on to their listing. – jhpratt Oct 7 at 4:32
  • @jhpratt That's unfortunate :( I thought this was literally what they were for. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 7 at 11:15

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