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?

  • 29
    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. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:52
  • 48
    @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. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:58
  • 58
    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
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 13:08
  • 14
    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
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 14:58
  • 48
    @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
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 21:13
  • 9
    @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". Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 10:15
  • 8
    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
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 10:22
  • 45
    @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. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 1:10
  • 11
    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. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 10:58
  • 8
    "Will...?" So far not. (see meta.stackexchange.com/a/333745/260073) Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:19
  • 9
    @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. Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 15:35
  • 15
    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
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 15:39
  • 17
    @PrincessOlivia Good spot! Oh, my. That's rather frightening. Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 15:52
  • 8
    I remember thinking that it wasn't the deliberately cautious language I was trying to use in the question itself, but that beyond that it wasn't in any way rude or offensive or certainly worthy of not just deletion but full erasure from the history of the entire internet. The lengths this company is going to, to stifle dissent, right now, is offensive, particularly at a time when you'd think they'd be doing the opposite. Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 21:32
  • 27
    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. Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 21:46

2 Answers 2


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.
    – peterh
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 4:29
  • 34
    @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. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 14:25
  • 10
    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. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 17:44
  • 8
    They actually don't have the right to change existing content licenses of content we own. meta.stackexchange.com/a/333094/285610
    – mbomb007
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 18:22
  • 21
    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. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 19:44
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Good morning! :-O
    – peterh
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 20:00
  • 2
    @NathanOliver Thanks for the link. And yeah. Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 0:02
  • 4
    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. Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 15:52
  • 8
    @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
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 18:00
  • 3
    @PrincessOlivia Oh, my. Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 10:26
  • 6
    @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
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 18:47
  • 3
    @Trilarion I'm still hoping the EFF can help us. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 10:26
  • 3
    More than a month. Still no [meaningful] engagement. Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 11:23
  • 6
    @jhpratt I can't think of anything more relevant to at least one of the organizations to whom you made enquiries. I thought that's bread and butter work for EFF and FSF! I can try nagging Berkman at Harvard and Stanford's Center for Internet and Society (or whatever they call it) on Twitter. Tomorrow we will breach the 30-day license misuse cure period for CC 4.0, with more details here. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 7:10
  • 2
    @EllieKesselman Feel free to reach out! My contact info can be found on GitHub (username is the same).
    – jhpratt
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 18:23

Yes, it will.

As Teresa wrote in her meta post:

We have drafted our followup and clarification on the Content Licensing issue and will be publishing that within the next two weeks.

Our response has been published: An Update on Creative Commons Licensing

Thanks for your patience on this issue.

  • 6
    The question is more than five months old. Could you maybe comment on what was limiting the ability to draft and post a clarification on the issue in the last months that was received so badly back then? Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 11:48
  • 5
    @Trilarion Hopefully, that will be included in the followup post itself. If hints were included here, we'd just get a long thread of comments trying to double-guess the full content. If I turn out to be wrong, your question will be a valid response to the new post, but I think it's reasonable for this answer to stick to the bare minimum until the full explanation is ready.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 12:45
  • 6
    @Trilarion, I don't believe we will get a clarification on the delay, because it took a change of management to see that an answer was due. Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 13:52

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