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I was looking at the text of the CC BY-SA 4.0 license, which is the license used by posts on the SE network. Specifically, I noted the phrase that...

You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

Some of the articles in the help center are editable by moderators, such as /help/on-topic on every site. However, when viewing the page, there is no indication that it has been edited, nor by whom, nor a link to the license. There is a revision history, but it's only visible to moderators and also doesn't clarify what license is being used.

Screenshot of a revision to the on-topic help center article

For most posts, the current license is available at /posts/<ID>/timeline, but that page leads to a 404 for help center articles.

At the bottom of the page there's the standard "user contributions licensed under CC BY-SA", but nothing indicating that the help center falls under "user contributions", since most help center articles aren't user-contributed and presumarly do not fall under the CC BY-SA license.

Could the licensing of the help center articles please be clarified?

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  • 2
    For every post, as stored in the site DBs, there's an associated ContentLicense column which holds the license type for the post. You can observe this via SEDE, which would answer this question– except for the fact that some types of posts are missing from the public dataset, seemingly including traditional wiki pages like that post #2600 on literature. Maybe that's a way staff could check this internally though?
    – zcoop98
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:35
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    As for there being no indications of changes, I imagine that that part of the license does not apply to the source content, right? Also related: Please make the revision history of help center articles public
    – starball
    Jul 11, 2023 at 22:47

2 Answers 2

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This got me curious enough to re-read the site Terms of Service (yes. RE-read...🤓).

What is commonly called "user contributions" is defined in the site TOS as "Subscriber Content". The definition (copy/pasted on 1 August, 2023) reads:

Subscriber Content

You agree that any and all content, including without limitation any and all text, graphics, logos, tools, photographs, images, illustrations, software or source code, audio and video, animations, and product feedback (collectively, “Content”) that you provide to the public Network (collectively, “Subscriber Content”), is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow on a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis pursuant to Creative Commons licensing terms (CC BY-SA 4.0), and 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, even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by you...

That's a really long sentence. It keeps going and eventually includes a bulleted list. If we carve out some of the details and nuance, it becomes:

"all content, including without limitation any and all text...that you provide to the public Network..."

The site Terms of Service do not appear to make any differentiation between types of contribution other than the qualification "that you provide to the public Network." I don't see anything in the Moderator Agreement that would treat moderator-contributed text differently from other user contributions.

As a consumer reading this, it appears that text from the help articles, chat, and Q&A are all "Subscriber Content" and licensed identically--so long as it comes from a user. I'm not a lawyer, and perhaps moderators have a different contractual agreement compared to non-moderator users, but barring that it sounds like "if a user contributes it, it's all licensed the same--under CC BY-SA."

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  • I just read the first page of the linked ToS and the heading is Public Network Terms of Service. Further down it reads The Stack Overflow Network is a set of related Internet sites. Is this a mistake? Surely it should read The Stack Exchange Network ? Aug 1, 2023 at 6:04
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    @user10186832 -- I'm not a lawyer (and you shouldn't have to be one to read the Terms of Service for a website). I think it's reasonable to read "Public Network", "Stack Overflow Network", and "Stack Exchange Network" as meaning the same thing. There's probably a fun story about how it got that way, but I don't think it impacts the meaning any. There's only one Public Network, whether you call it the SO Network or the SE Network.
    – AMtwo
    Aug 1, 2023 at 13:43
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    Upvoted simply because I am also reader ( and sometimes re-reader) of all term and agreements. Don't just agree, even if it's free ;)
    – ColleenV
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:52
  • While all such "Subscriber Content" is licensed under CC BY-SA, it is also licensed to SE/SO under a custom license, which isn't CC BY-SA and doesn't require attribution. That license is the part which says "and 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". Note, that the second license didn't exist prior to 2010 (See my answer to: "When did Stack Exchange start to dual-license user content?")
    – Makyen
    Oct 20, 2023 at 16:24
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I spoke to our legal team, who shared the following with me:

You’re right that user-generated content, compiled and shared in our data dumps, is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

While site moderators can edit some articles in the Help Center (e.g., /help/on-topic pages for any Stack Exchange site), these articles are owned by Stack and provided for convenience to mods to support community development and maintenance. Stack-owned content is licensed under a commercial license and is not included in our data dumps.

Inclusion in data dumps is generally a way to tell if the data you’re interested in is licensed under a Creative Commons license. We hope this helps clear things up.

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  • I might be misreading this, but then if I (a user without a diamond) wishes to license content to SE for use in the Help Center on-topic page, I should use the CC0 or similar as the on-topic page is not CC BY-SA or similar? Or am I misunderstanding?
    – cocomac
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:30
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    "Inclusion in data dumps is generally a way to tell if the data you’re interested in is licensed under a Creative Commons license" - I don't think this is correct. For instance, chat is licensed under CC-by-SA, as made clear by the new room creation page, yet is not AFAIK included in the data dump. Does this mean that moderators are, essentially, giving up any rights to their writing entirely to Stack when they contribute to such articles? That should be made very clear when going to edit them in that case.
    – Mithical
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:45
  • @Mithical This answer could just be scoped to the Q&A sites and not chat or other things. Jul 31, 2023 at 17:45
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    It's specifically about something that's not Q&A, @Sonic.
    – Mithical
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:46
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    That said, some of the content in the help center is a direct adaptation of CC BY-SA material. In particular, the privilege pages are direct adaptations of the old privilege wikis, which are released in the data dump (to my knowledge). Per the SA clause of the CC BY-SA license, this means that the privilege pages have to be licensed under CC BY-SA. Jul 31, 2023 at 17:49
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    I'll follow up with our legal team and get back to y'all on the above :)
    – V2Blast
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:36
  • Thanks! Almost forgot: some parts of the site, such as portions of the tour and election pages, are stored as "wiki placeholders", which are also included in the data dump (to my knowledge). Please include that in your follow-up if you can. Aug 1, 2023 at 8:28

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