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I am looking into creating a forum with a system of self-moderation and reputation which is the same system as Stack Exchange sites.

I have seen many websites on the Web with the same format, but I have not found any license ruling the concept of Stack Overflow itself.

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    I think you mostly can't use 1) the name, and 2) the actual software. There's nothing preventing you from using your own with a different name. I am not a lawyer. – Matt Samuel Jan 20 at 16:48
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    note there is a law.stackexchange.com – user253751 Jan 20 at 17:16
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    I don't see why not, codidact exists after all – GammaGames Jan 20 at 17:18
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    They can't really stop people from making competing products. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 20 at 17:24
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    Don't get me wrong, but with such a question, I would wait at least 2, 3 days for more than one answer to come before accepting anything... – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 20 at 18:50
  • @MattSamuel And also logos. See StackOverflow Content. Even the layout of the website may be protected by copyright to some extent. – Trilarion Jan 20 at 21:48
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  • Q&A itself isn't new either. Yahoo did it, Quora did it, and plenty others (a lot have gone under over the time, but still). – Mast Jan 23 at 8:42
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You are allowed to create almost everything as long you don't infringe any patents or copyrights claimed by SEI.

... but I have not found any license ruling the concept of Stack Overflow itself.

IIRC there aren't such patents how to run Q&A sites managed by a volunteering community yet claimed by SEI.

Note that there's already an ongoing project to do something similar under Open Source conditions: https://codidact.org

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Short answer: yes.

This is even tacitly, if not enthusiastically, supported by SE through a variety of resources that it technically publishes.

For the software, you can use one of any number of existing clones (or, of course, roll your own).

For the content, you can start with the very same data Stack Exchange itself currently serves, via public data dumps (currently hosted at archive.org). This comes with the requirement to use a CC-compatible license. Most notably, that means you have to let other people continue to share the content, and provide attribution to SE.

As a commenter noted, you should be aware of SE's trademark guidance and other terms and conditions.

Two similar-but-not-identical Q&A platforms that were started recently and are relatively active are Codidact and topanswers, if you'd rather join something on the ground floor than start building entirely from scratch.

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    Very good take on the "dont re-invent the wheel the 5th time". – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 20 at 18:54
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    Neither Codidact nor TopAnswers is a clone. Both are doing Q&A but each has key differences from SE (and from the other). – Monica Cellio Jan 20 at 21:23
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    Very important is that the attribution of the content must be given in a specific way: the author name must be displayed and a link be added to the original location on this platform. – Trilarion Jan 20 at 21:50
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    @MonicaCellio good point, I already had the word "clone" in my head from earlier in the post, I have rephrased – SOLO Jan 20 at 22:49
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Always remember: asking for legal advice on the Internet in itself is already a very doubtful approach. What if I told you "hey, you are fine, just go for it". And you go for it, and then you get sued. Do you think you can tell the judge "but sir, some grey cat on the interwebs told me, I would be fine"?! You think that would work? Or maybe the judge will reply: "I guess that cat meant you will be fined?"

If you are serious about such inquiries: consider talking to a real professional, and be ready to have plenty of relevant details ready for consumption. And to pay for it.

But having said that, in this case, there two things to consider:

  • the basic "ideas" that frame this community
  • the look and feel, and the implementation that drives it

For the first one, I think there would need to be patents of some form in order to sue you for "infringement". I am not aware of any such patents.

I also think that any such thing might be easily challenged, simply given the fact that you probably find "prior art" for almost any concept that this community is using. Not in one place, but I am sure: most ideas we have here were used here or there before. Just not together.

For the second aspect, that leads to a big legal depends. Meaning: if you happen to implement your own community that looks "almost" like Stack Overflow, or Stack Exchange, some clever attorneys might find "good enough" reasons to drag you to court. And what happens there, who knows.

Meaning: if you create your own community, that works on similar principles, but that can't be mistaken to be a product of SE Inc., then the grey cat form the interwebs believes that you should be fine.

  • "maybe the judge will reply: "I guess that cat meant you will be fined?"" - yet another option would be that the judge forwards this to prosecution to find you and put you to jail for giving out bad advice. IANAL. – John Dvorak Jan 23 at 9:10
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    @JohnDvorak And from me, to this posting here, and then to you, for not doing anything about it. Probably you even upvoted it, omg. Hint: this is not an attempt to convince to you to downvote the answer ;-) – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 23 at 9:18
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In case you did not know, you can propose to make a Stack Exchange for your own topic, while still being part of the overall Stack Exchange "network", if you can get enough people to follow your proposal on Area 51, for example my proposal to start a Stack Exchange site for Materials Modeling here.

Rumours have been going around that the Area 51 for proposing new Stack Exchange sites, will not last for much longer. But for now, they are still letting you make new proposals, so it might not be too late. If you are interested in this avenue, you may want to do it quickly, before they stop accepting new proposals.

If you already knew about Area 51 and just wanted to make your own Stack Exchange site that is completely independent of the rest of the Stack Exchange network, then please accept my apologies for telling you what you already know, and I recommend you see the other answers for that!

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    I didn't know it so do not apologize – clota974 Jan 20 at 19:24

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