We have been having a discussion in a chat room on whether the exact spelling matters when referring to a License, in this particular case the CC BY-SA License - which applies to any content posted to any of the Stack Exchange sites - and is linked to in the Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service

I had mistakenly referred to it (in a comment) using the name CC-by-SA instead of the correct CC BY-SA (additional hyphen and lower case by).

It was pointed out to me that this incorrect usage could potentially jeopardise any legal case brought against Stack Exchange in the US.

  1. Is this the case? Would an unintended misspelling be that serious in a legal case?

  2. Would the fact that the misspelling occurred in a transient comment make any difference?

  3. Would the fact that I am an elected moderator (on SU) - and therefore presumably a "representative" of Stack Exchange - make any difference? (Compared to and ordinary user making the same mistake).

    Note that the Moderator Agreement explicitly states "I acknowledge and agree that I am an independent volunteer moderator to Stack Overflow and I am not an employee, agent or representative of Stack Exchange Inc., and I have no authority to bind Stack Exchange Inc. in any manner."

  • Note that in the moderator agreement, it explicitly states that you are not a representative of SE in any way.
    – Mithical
    May 7, 2017 at 16:54
  • @Mithrandir Good point. I wonder if the lawyers would argue about that as well :) May 7, 2017 at 16:55
  • @Mithrandir Question updated. May 7, 2017 at 16:58
  • 2
    SE itself refers to it in the statement in the footer as "cc by-sa" (all lower-case) on most sites (but not always)
    – Cai
    May 7, 2017 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


The only potential problem would be if CC-BY-SA and CC BY-SA (and other variants) come to refer to two different things. There is a problem that in any spelling, "cc by sa" is informal shorthand for a class of licenses. One of them is here: it looks to me like they "officially" call it the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Here is another version. The existing practice of referring to CC licenses is very problematic, because there are multiple versions, and without a link to the specific version, a person can't know what they are being bound by. This is an example of a real ambiguity.

There is (at least presently) no difference between CC-BY-SA, CC by-SA, or any other variants. CC-BY and CC-SA, on the other hand refer to different things. Problems only arise when it's not possible to objectively figure out what a licensor was referring to.


The questions appear to be based on a concern whether it could "jeopardise any legal case brought against Stack Exchange in the US".

That is a rather wide area, but presumably we can restrict ourselves to civil suits (not criminal) where Stack Exchange is sued for damages.

The first thing to consider would be whether they're sued directly for damages incurred by the use of "CC-by-SA", or whether that's only indirectly related. In the first case, the claimant would have to prove how that would be damaging. And considering Stack Exchange is a free service, the claimant should have known that perfection was not to be expected.

Things get a bit less certain when we're assuming that the misspelling is only indirectly related to the damages claim. That's the problem with hypothetical problems, there are so many of them. But it might be for instance an attempt to show a pattern of carelessness. That might be relevant to a damages claim, but again carelessness would require a duty on the side of StackExchange. This is hard to imagine.

The transient comment would definitely matter. In order to claim the damages, the claimant would have to show the damages were caused by a reasonable reliance on the consequences of the statement. Setting aside the question how important the spelling is, the context in which the statement is made does matter. A direct response to a direct question is easy to rely on, but a throw-away comment not in response to a direction question is the other extreme.

The Moderator Agreement is not directly relevant. The claimant is not a party to that agreement. However, the TOS references that Moderator Agreement (section 14) as an "example". While an example fails to establish that there is no relation between SE and its moderators, it does complicate the reverse. And that is part of what the claimant has to prove.

Still, I think that the main reason whyt this does not matter is not mentioned yet. The default position is that copyright protection protects against copying. Licensing allows that, but that usually comes with financial conditions attached. A "free to use" license sounds too good to be true, and justifies a decent legal analysis by the beneficiary. Such legal advice won't be affected by a minor misspelling.

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