I've toyed with the idea of designing a shirt, but toying with an idea is pointless. If I did design a Stack Overflow shirt, what would be the legal extent to which I could profit from my work?

What if a user wrote an application that used Stack Overflow as an engine for material, could he sell licenses to the program?

Clearly people shouldn't be allowed to sell answers they find on Stack Overflow, but I'm curious about people who do a great deal of work, and happen to use bits of Stack Overflow in their projects, or in my case in their apparel-ideas.

Yes, I know that you aren't lawyers. I am trying to speak directly to the Stack Overflow team here, and by-pass the necessity of a lawyer. Clearly, if they are alright with me making a shirt, the lawyer-expenses won't be necessary.

  • Call it satire.
    – TheTXI
    Jul 8, 2009 at 16:57
  • Wouldn't my shirt have to be satirical then? :)
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 16:58
  • 7
    The best satire is that which nobody understands is satire
    – TheTXI
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:08
  • Touche` .
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:13
  • 1
    You may also run across issues with selling people's likeness (e.g.-Jon Skeet, the Coding Horror icon from Code Complete, which Jeff has permission to use, but you don't). It's not just StackOverflow that you're dealing with in that design.
    – Eric
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:19
  • Good point. I'd have to get permission from the owners of any avatars first.
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:20
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    The creators of those avatars, not the users, are the important ones. Using an image as an avatar is fair use. Using it to make a profit is not, and so the law is vastly different. Somebody can use an image as an avatar without owning its copyright.
    – Eric
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:22
  • @Eric, I was speaking more about the users like me who have a simple photo of themselves.
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:25
  • If someone else took their photo, the person taking the photograph probably owns the rights to the photo. Jul 8, 2009 at 18:12
  • @Eric do you have the permission of the person in your avatar to post pictures of them on the internet?
    – devinb
    Jul 8, 2009 at 18:22
  • I think it'd be cooler to use the SO Avatars to make the Stack Overflow logo. Jul 10, 2009 at 16:14

3 Answers 3


See footer of every page

site design / logo © 2012 stack exchange inc; user contributed content licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required

so, no, you can't use the logo unless we give you permission.

And yes, you can use the user contributed content as long as it complies with the linked terms.

  • 3
    Would you guys object to me making/selling a shirt like the one referenced in my question, which doesn't use the logo?
    – Sampson
    Jul 10, 2009 at 12:29
  • @Jonathan Sampson: Why not just request permission to use it? It's a cool shirt, I think it wouldn't be too difficult for StackOverflow, LCC to legally grant you permission to use the copyright/trademark for use in the production of this t-shirt. Jul 28, 2009 at 13:52

Your question wandered across a few boundaries, so I'll attempt to disambiguate, then answer.

If I design a Stackoverflow shirt, what would be the legal extent to which I could profit from my work?

(edited to remove some legal jargon I had no right to have written in the first place) Assuming that you had not announced your intention to do so ahead of time, the words (or compound word) "Stack Overflow" are just words. So if you create a shirt that says "stack overflow" anywhere on it and it has nothing to do with (or reference) this site then it is fine.

On the other hand, if you want to use the Stack Overflow typeface, the Stack Overflow logo, the Stack Overflow url, your Stack Overflow flair, or anything derived DIRECTLY, or inspired DIRECTLY by this website, then you should talk to a LAWYER. I don't mean to yell at you, I'm just trying to emphasize the lack of legal expertise that exists in the metaSO and SO communities.

What if a user wrote an app that used SO as an engine for material, could he sell licenses to the program?

I don't know what you mean by using "SO as an engine". If you are using the SO datadump as your source material, I'm fairly sure that's illegal, (again, see a lawyer). And that also answers the licensing question.

people who do a great deal of work, and happen to use bits of stackoverflow in their projects

If you are talking about incorporating the answers you find here into your code, I believe Jeff put something in a blog-post about the license he wanted to use. Basically you could re-use anything here as long as you didn't CLAIM it was your own. Proprietary/non-proprietary, it was all good as long as you didn't in some way claim that you yourself wrote it and not the original author.

As for incorporating the site into your application in some direct manner, then again, your lawyers would have to work that out with their lawyers. And your people with their people. I imagine it would involve a lot of expense'd lunches. If that is the case, I'd like to come too.

  • The lawyer isn't necessary if Jeff and Joel don't mind. That's what I'm trying to figure out. Thanks for the response.
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:18
  • I don't think you need permission to use the stackoverflow typeface, I believe it's a public domain font. Correct me if I'm wrong. Jul 8, 2009 at 17:21
  • Which font is it?
    – Sampson
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:21
  • @Ian: Helvetica is a readily available font, too. That doesn't mean you can put the italics on and type "Microsoft" and be on your way. It's still a logo...
    – Eric
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:23
  • Microsoft has a trademark, stackoverflow doesn't. Jul 8, 2009 at 17:43
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    @Ian: Trademarks and copyrights are automatic and implicit (in the US, where SO is). Registered trademarks and patents are the only things that you have to apply for.
    – Eric
    Jul 8, 2009 at 17:45
  • I'm not American so I'm unaware of the laws, thanks for clarifying for me. Also @Jonathan, I haven't been able to track it down to it's exact form, it is very close to Trebuchet MS and a few others. Jul 8, 2009 at 18:17

We (stackoverflow.com LLC) are working on schwag (T-shirts, etc.) so if you have ideas and want to work with us, contact us via the normal email channels and we'll figure something out.

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