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I do not agree to my old content being relicensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (it is not the same as 3.0)

StackExchange is not the owner of my contributions and is not allowed to change the license without consent/permission.

There are possibilities to upgrade the license to 4.0

Who owns the rights?

  • If the publisher, ....

  • If the contributors, then need permission to relicense. Without permission (via terms of use or otherwise), then that content remains under prior version. [If this is the case, see the section below about dealing with mixed-version content.]

    • A couple of options for obtaining permission to relicense:
    • upon upload by contributors, have a prompt box to obtain agreement to relicense previous uploads;
    • general outreach to contributors seeking agreement to upgrade. [Note that this is easier to do with discrete artifacts (an article, a photo) as opposed to other contributions such as comments on wikis and similar, where one person's contribution is intermixed with others.]

Stack Exchange does not own the rights and did not follow any path to obtain permission to relicense. Thus they do not comply with the true license and neither do they respect the contributors.

  • So how do I get my content either reverted to 3.0 or how do I get it removed?

  • How do I get support in this cause? (e.g. collect a large group of people that want to do the same, signatures, lawsuit, etc.)


Some people have noted that there may have been no violation of the law, and there is a relation with section 4.b that allows re-licensing (within certain bounds) of adapted works. However section 4.a clearly states that

4.a You may Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work only under the terms of this License. You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform. 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. You may not sublicense the Work. You must keep intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform. When You Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work, You may not impose any effective technological measures on the Work that restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License. This Section 4(a) applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collection, but this does not require the Collection apart from the Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License.

So this seems very clear (section 4a applies to the works and not 4b). StackExchange can re-license their collection according to the terms in 4b, but for the individual works they need to comply with the terms in 4a and they should keep the license 3.0 for the individual works.

(e.g. they could place next to all posts small links that refer to the specific license(s) that apply for those works, it doesn't need to be great; they could ask people to give permission for 4.0 and then remove those links for the specific posts and make the footer text something like 'user contributions licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required. Unless otherwise stated' or in some other way. It is a big pain to deal with this mixed license material; but we should respect the rights of the contributors and not just change licenses in the way we like and without permission. Make something of your own if you do not like it).

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    You might find this thread on TWP from someone with a similar problem useful: workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6499/… – Magisch Feb 6 at 9:21
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    The TL;DR is you can request to be disassociated from your content, but that is it. SE will not delete your content for you nor offer it under an older license. You may try compelling them in court. – Magisch Feb 6 at 9:22
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    @Magisch disassociation is not a desirable outcome; I want that my content is not being re-licensed without my approval (disassociation is not helping there). The question is how I can get the content licensed correctly or else removed. The law seems to be on the side of the licensor here. If it needs to go all the way to court then the question becomes how to take it to court? Financial issues, get more people with the same issue, create momentum, etc. ? – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 9:26
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    @SextusEmpiricus you are on the assumption here that there is a violation of lawn. The problem is that this point is not generally agreed upon - see for example this discussion on laws .... apparently the ToS is (on purpose?) vague enough in that regard. See the linked post for further details: you would need to first consult an actual lawyer to check if there is a real violation. – BlueSoul Feb 6 at 10:20
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    @SextusEmpiricus I know, the point is that even if as you state the license explicitly states that "If the contributors, then need permission to relicense." there are counterargument that claim that the ToS was accurately worded to grant the company the ability to unilateraly change the license version (at the very least). Obviously, the company will never post an official claim that clearly states if that is true (would be a loss-lost: if it is true, people would get mad, if it is false, it is an admission of an illegal change). So unless there is some external confirmation... – BlueSoul Feb 6 at 10:58
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    @BlueSoul The ToS was worded to allow changes to the ToS, but they can't use that to retroactively change the license version of material that they do not own (and agreeing to the ToS does not make SE owner of the contributions). To make that clear, imagine a more extreme case: say they would change the ToS to some very restrictive license and without asking people to accept the new ToS start applying that restrictive license (the ability to change the ToS can/shouldn't be interpreted in such way that it makes possible to retroactively change licenses however they like and without permission). – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 11:03
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    @SextusEmpiricus again, I can't say which view is the right one. I am just pointing out that not even on laws people agree - two answers, one claims the change is a violation of laws, the other claims it is allowed by the ToS. I am not a lawyer as I said, buy I do still find the line "...you grant Stack Overflow the perpetual and irrevocable right and license to access, use, process, copy, distribute, export, display and to commercially exploit such Subscriber Content..." quite suspicious. Again, the first step would be to have some competent third party confirm that there is a violation. – BlueSoul Feb 6 at 11:16
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    @BlueSoul I have added this suggestion to one of my answers – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 11:19
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    Out of curiosity, your opposition to the re-licensing is out of principle (i.e. SO does not have the right to do this), or is there a specific problem with V4 one should be aware of? – yivi Feb 6 at 12:59
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    The "principles" thing I'm much less sympathetic about. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Maybe you could add in this question details about how the V4 license is worse, to convince doubters like me? Explain why wouldn't you switch to V4 if SO followed the appropriate behaviour and gave us the chance to choose. – yivi Feb 6 at 13:29
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    I find the "principle" thing very important and it is not so much unsympathetic. Let me explain better: We are dealing here with content from others. Many of the people here make their living with intellectual property and they consider these issues very important (you find this even more in a community with photographers whose property is continuously abused). We should not treat this property lightly and go change licenses for content that we do not own. SE/SO, being a community for developer, scientists and technologist should set an example of proper handling licenses and property rights. – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 13:31
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    ....I believe that there is a very good case here (although it should not be neccesary and is in my opinion not a preferred path), we can be very principal about this and the court has often sympathy for that. It is clear that StackExchange is not allowed to relicense other people's works, it is not soo nuanced and vague. You can argue that cc by-sa 4.0 and 3.0 are close but that is not really an issue, the question is whether they are different and they are... – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 19:58
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    ...This is not just a nitpicking point by contributers. SE should simply not change the license, and especially after requests and notifications that it is wrong they should correct it. It is such disregard of agreements and disrespect to other people's copyright (changing the license without permission and not following requests) which may very well get much less sympathy from the court. It may be expected from SE that they provide the correct license with each contribution. Other websites can do it and set the example how it needs to be done. SE only shows they dont respect copyright. – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 20:00
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Send a notice to SE that the content is not being published correctly

(I have made this community wiki because I do not know how to do this correctly and people need to improve this answer)

From https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode

  1. Termination

    a. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically upon any breach by You of the terms of this License....

If the licensee (SE) does not correct the issue timely then they will loose their rights and won't be able to publish the content, not even under the old license.

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    Maybe somebody knows a standard format email/letter to send to SE such that this can be shared for everyone that wishes to notify SE that their content is not correctly published (and eventually nullify the rights granted by the license when they do not comply). – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 9:56
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    Maybe the wikipedia violation letter for DCMA and takedown can be a starting point: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Tensibai Feb 6 at 15:21
  • The notice does not terminate the license. The violation does. – Nemo Feb 6 at 15:30
  • @Nemo I am not sure how this works and there is little jurisprudence about it. I believe that the 'fair use' step is to first sent a notice to the user of the work to notify them of their incorrect use of the license. – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 15:31
  • @SextusEmpiricus No. And there is plenty of jurisprudence, hundreds of cases in the last couple years. – Nemo Feb 6 at 15:41
  • A small selection is available at wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Case_Law – Nemo Feb 6 at 17:21
  • Sorry for triple message... and you can find more on RECAP/CourtListener courtlistener.com/… – Nemo Feb 6 at 17:31
  • @Nemo is any of those about the 'termination' and does it clarify what is considered violation and how fair use or reasonability needs to be factored into it? – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 19:41
  • @nemo This case is slightly similar wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Gerlach_vs._DVU the publishing party did not properly attribute (or not at all). But the licensor first send a notice (I am not sure whether it was directly a takedown letter, I have not read the full the case). – Sextus Empiricus Feb 6 at 20:43
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    @SextusEmpiricus yes, sending a notice is courtesy. It may also be necessary for some procedural reasons depending on the jurisdiction. But the copyright infringement begins from the moment the license gets violated, and therefore terminated. Cf. "GPLv2 terminates all copyright permissions at the moment of violation, and that termination is permanent. GPLv3's termination provision allows first-time violators automatic restoration of distribution rights" fsf.org/licensing/enforcement-principles for GPL, which had the same issue. – Nemo Feb 7 at 20:41
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Send a DMCA takedown notice: https://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/copyright-claims-based-user-content (SE question).

StackOverflow may consider it invalid, then of course you can sue. Alternatively they may consider it a violation/termination of the terms of service, in which case your account would need to be deleted or something.

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+50

Take a slow approach but with lots of pressure: start with a letter from the community and reach out to (competent) third parties to give their opinion

It has been stated that SE is not listening

Magisch: How do I get my content on StackExchange licensed correctly or else removed?

SE has stated that they will not remove your content or provide it under the original license. What else can you do then take them to court if you disagree?

But we have never had a true mass movement that pressured SE/SO to improve how they are re-licensing other people's content. (it has always been a bit discussy and chaotic on the meta pages, but no clear steps towards putting pressure other than just stating that we don't agree with it in comments and posts)

  • Step We could start with a letter like Dear Stack Exchange: a statement and a letter from your moderators in which we describe demands about the re-licensing and that the removal of the old license from a post must only be done when there is permission from all the contributors to a post.

    If this letter receives lots of signatures then this allows to put more pressure on the party that is illegally re-licensing other people's content.

  • Step As noted by BlueSoul in the comments, there is still some dispute on whether or not the law has been violated. One of the first steps would need to be to have some competent third party confirm that there is a violation

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