All content under Stack Exchange is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Does this mean that any academic paper that uses content from Stack Exchange must also be licensed under said Creative Commons?

If not, what is the actual rule on this part?

  • Essentially the question can be rephrased as, "does using content from a Stack Exchange post make the work that uses it count as a derivative work?"
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:08
  • Another possibility is to segregate lengthy quotations in another file. If you only need to quote small amounts, you can probably do that under fair use. If you need lengthy quotations or other data sets, you could have an auxiliary file (with the CC BY-SA license) that presents the data you need, and then you could refer readers to that file in your paper. This would give you a stable, archivable file that highlights what you need, without letting the license affect the rest of your paper. Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 15:58
  • Related but not quite a duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/10459/…
    – Irwin
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 23:45

2 Answers 2


Making a reference to CC Attribution-ShareAlike content is always okay. In fact, referring to any work is okay, regardless of the copyright status. Only content is copyrighted, not bibliographic elements (including author names and title). For example, the U.S. Copyright Office says:

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases.

Quoting is a more complex matter. It depends on copyright laws, and thus your country. In most cases, if the material is quoted raw and the quote is kept short, most academic use should fall under the doctrine of fair use. By contrast, read also the article on derivative work to get an idea of these two extreme cases.

This is mostly a theoretical question, however: the scope of fair use is grey are in US Copyright Law, and provided you do it for academic purposes and in a good faith, you won't get into trouble.

Finally: if you really want to quote in a bulletproof way, either (a) consult with a lawyer or (b) ask the copyright holder for a waiver to relicense his content to you.

  • By "referencing" I meant using content that would merit a citation, not citing in a bibliography. Sorry for being unclear.
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:06
  • (That definition probably carried over from my work in art, where "referencing" somebody else's work means using it as a reference for doing your own thing.)
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:13
  • @Joe it's not really clear what you mean by referencing. But like F'x says, the key issue is whether you are quoting (i.e. copying) the content from the SE site or not.
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 20:54

For quotations that are covered by "fair use" of the copyrighted work, you don't need to get a license. Even if you already have a license to use the work (such as a CC license), you don't need to stick to the terms of the license for this type of usage.

So, even if your paper may be a derivative work, you don't have to apply the terms of the license, and you wouldn't have to put your work under a CC license. As soon as your quotations go beyond fair use, you would in fact have to put your work under the required license.

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