Stack Exchange currently dual-licenses user content, which allows them to sell user content without attributing users. When did the dual-licensing start?

The Wayback Machine's first save of the ToS page was on May 22, 2018. The ToS already was mentioning the dual-license then.


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The terms which provide both licenses existed at least back to 2010-06-09, which is the first capture I'd previously found on archive.org of the Terms of Service:

You agree that all Subscriber Content that You contribute to the Network will be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. You grant Stack Overflow the right and license to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and to allow others to do so (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services.

That version probably existed at least one day prior to that capture, as the capture for http://stackoverflow.com on 2010-06-08 has a "legal" link at the bottom. However, the capture for 2010-06-05 doesn't have a "legal" link.

There may have also been some licensing information placed in questions tagged "faq", potentially on the main site or Meta Stack Overflow. However, I didn't see anything linked from the homepage in earlier captures which gave me the impression that something else was "obviously" in place.

If you trace the history back, the location of the Terms of Service bounced around a bit, first in a couple of locations on stackoverflow.com, then on stackexchange.com, and later on all sites.

First Capture Last Capture location
2010-06-09 2010-12-22 http://stackoverflow.com/legal
2010-06-29 2010-12-08 http://stackoverflow.com/legal/terms-of-service
2011-04-26 2018-05-17 http://stackexchange.com/legal/terms-of-service
2018-05-21 current https://stackoverflow.com/legal/terms-of-service
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    2010 may well have been the first version. At least according to old meta questions which indicate there wasn't a terms of service page at all back then: Stack Overflow - no terms and conditions?
    – animuson StaffMod
    Apr 28, 2023 at 22:47
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    The 2018 update was announced here. There was also an update in 2016, although it appears the location of the document did not change. Aug 5, 2023 at 4:19
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    That says "in order to provide the Services", though. It doesn't mean they can re-sell the content under a different license.
    – endolith
    May 11 at 18:21
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    @endolith Yes, that's correct, in that the words quoted above don't give them the right to allow others to use the content under the second license (e.g., SE would need to be at least a part owner of any entity which was trying to do so). However, the text in that section of the ToS has changed over the years. It now says they have the right to "commercially exploit" the content. What that really means isn't clear to me. It may or may not mean that they can allow others to "commercially exploit" the content, but IMO it shouldn't. But that's a strict contract interpretation legal question.
    – Makyen
    May 11 at 18:43
  • @Makyen Was there ever any notification to the users that they had added the "commercially exploit" language?
    – endolith
    May 12 at 22:06
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    @endolith I'm not aware of them explicitly calling out that that wording had changed. I did receive an email notification (for one of my alternate accounts) on 2018-05-23 that the Terms of Service had been changed, but that specific change was not explicitly called out.
    – Makyen
    May 12 at 22:29
  • @Makyen - It wouldn't take precedence anyway. ToS changes don't go back in time, it would only apply from that date forward.
    – Travis J
    May 14 at 20:13
  • @TravisJ Obviously, the change isn't retroactive. I'm unsure why you're pointing that out.
    – Makyen
    May 14 at 23:09
  • @Makyen - In your comment here, you note that "It now says they have the right to "commercially exploit" the content. What that really means isn't clear to me.", however precedence is an important legal facet that is overlooked. It may seem obvious, but it was also not mentioned by you, whereas the inverse, that current terms are the only terms, is the implied conclusion. Perhaps, just so there is no confusion, you could reference precedence in the future when discussing the application of current license terms.
    – Travis J
    May 15 at 19:37
  • @TravisJ It would need to be precedence within each jurisdiction as to what "commercially exploit" means. That's probably a complicated topic, covering lots of jurisdictions. There are also by-jurisdiction rules as to how contracts are interpreted, which would affect how it's interpreted (e.g., narrowly/broadly). Overall, it's really something that would at least need a larger venue than comments to discuss. Likely, IMO, it would need to be litigated. If it's really something you would like to see some opinions on, I'd suggest asking on Law.
    – Makyen
    May 15 at 20:15
  • @Makyen - Not the verbiage for "commercially exploit" which is, as you note, loaded. The version of the ToS. Each version constitutes a contract between user and company, and the earlier versions will take precedence for content posted relevant to them. This does not require opinion, and is widely accepted in law.
    – Travis J
    May 15 at 20:30

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