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As I understand, when I post something on Stack Overflow (or other Stack Exchange sites), I have copyright on the contents of the post and I've licensed significant redistribution and re-licensing rights to Stack Overflow.

Stack Overflow then releases that content to other netizens under an open license, but requires attribution in the form of a link to the original answer.

I have occasionally seen users on Stack Overflow who update the 'bio' section of their profile page to say something like 'I hereby release all of my contributions to Stack Overflow, past, present, and future, into the public domain.'.

Since those users do hold copyright, it seems to me this is valid. I.e., anyone using the content can choose to use it under the license offered by Stack Overflow (with attribution required) or as public domain content as offered by the user themself (without attribution required).

Is it valid to use the 'bio' section of your Stack Overflow profile to release your Stack Overflow contributions under a secondary license? Does the answer differ if releasing to the public domain rather than under a secondary license?

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  • 1
    It's apparently an open question in US copyright law whether its possible in any circumstances for a copyrighted work to be put in the public domain except by expiry of the copyright term.
    – Ross Ridge
    Mar 26 '20 at 16:24
  • @RossRidge really! that's a surprise for me. perhaps i should make this question more generic 'Can I release my contributions under a second license of my choice?' rather than specifically public domain. Mar 26 '20 at 16:28
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    @WoodrowBarlow if you want to clarify your question in response to comments, please do so. Don’t hide important info down here.
    – Dale M
    Mar 26 '20 at 21:41
  • No one is going to look at your bio section on StackOverflow. If you're not happy with SO's licensing policy, the only reasonable course of action is not to post on StackExchange sites, obviously. The fact that you posted something in your bio section does not matter at all.
    – Brandin
    Mar 27 '20 at 9:08
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You can licence your copyright under as many licences as you like to as many people as you like

It's your copyright - you can do what you want with it.

What you can't do is give someone an exclusive licence and then give licences to others - that would be a breach of contract with the exclusive licensee.

How you let people know about the available licences is also up to you - your bio on Stack Exchange is fine.

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  • How would edits to posts be handled here, as SE users dont have to agree to another users copyright notices that are tucked away in a non-obvious place?
    – Moo
    Mar 27 '20 at 2:51
  • @Moo the posts on this website would be subject to the SE licence as well as or instead of any other licence.
    – Dale M
    Mar 27 '20 at 2:53
  • I agree with that, but a post by User 1 becomes a derivative work owned by User 2 after an edit and distributed under the SE license, right? The additional license applied by the original author in their bio doesnt necessarily apply, and the original author doesnt necessarily have the right to relicense someone elses work. So its essentially just a big mess at that point, right?
    – Moo
    Mar 27 '20 at 2:56
  • @Moo yes, it’s funny how laws drafted to deal with 19th/20th century technologies don’t play well with 21st century ones.
    – Dale M
    Mar 27 '20 at 3:25
  • Its not as if we haven't had a legislative body between now and then who could have modernised laws as society and technology changed...
    – Moo
    Mar 27 '20 at 3:32

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