Stack Overflow: A Code Laundering Platform?
Written by Alex Armstrong   
Monday, 27 March 2017

Is Stack Overflow a code laundering platform? What is a code laundering platform anyway? Did you know that the code examples that you find there are licenced?


Sometimes the news is reported well enough elsewhere and we have little to add other than to bring it to your attention.

No Comment is a format where we present original source information, lightly edited, so that you can decide if you want to follow it up. 


Researchers at Polytechnique Montréal, Québec, who have looked into how StackOverflow code should be used and how it is actually used, report:

Developers use Question and Answer (Q&A) websites to exchange knowledge and expertise. Stack Overflow is a popular Q&A website where developers discuss coding problems and share code examples.

Although all Stack Overflow posts are free to access, code examples on Stack Overflow are governed by the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license that developers should obey when reusing code from Stack Overflow or posting code to Stack Overflow.

In this paper, we conduct a case study with 399 Android apps, to investigate whether developers respect license terms when reusing code from Stack Overflow posts (and the other way around).

We found 232 code snippets in 62 Android apps from our dataset that were potentially reused from Stack Overflow, and 1,226 Stack Overflow posts containing code examples that are clones of code released in 68 Android apps, suggesting that developers may have copied the code of these apps to answer Stack Overflow questions.

We investigated the licenses of these pieces of code and observed 1,279 cases of potential license violations (related to code posting to Stack overflow or code reuse from Stack overflow). This paper aims to raise the awareness of the software engineering community about potential unethical code reuse activities taking place on Q&A websites like Stack Overflow.



The conclusion is:

Based on the results of our study, when reusing code from a Q&A website, we recommend that developers provide a reference to the original code. Also, whenever it is possible, we suggest that they use a dual license (i.e., both the license of their project and the website’s license) in order to prevent license violations. When sharing code to a website, we also recommend that developers mention the license of the original project from which the code was borrowed and provide a reference to this original project. The reference can also help future developers (who reuse the code) to choose the right software license. 

Given the nature of much of the code on StackOverflow, this seems like another software patent situation where trivial code suddenly becomes owned by someone posting it online. I can't wait for the first legal case. 

More Information

Stack Overflow: A Code Laundering Platform?

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Last Updated ( Monday, 27 March 2017 )