I noticed on this answer: https://english.stackexchange.com/a/182362/37273 the phrase “Removed OED content as it is not allowed under my license agreement” is used a couple of times.

What is this about?

  • 1
    +1 Thanks for bringing that up. I've been able to resurrect one part of it from OED1. If SE don't like the fact that they can't license 'public domain' works under CC-asa, they can have the moderators delete it.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 18:32
  • 4
    @Frank - If you don't want to quote the definitions directly, fine, but it seems weird to use such a cumbersome and inelegant phrase to replace a reference to a reference (in this case, a 1978 edition of Skateboard magazine – which I'm sure itself was a copyrighted work).
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 9:56
  • @J.R. I took that part out because that is really the work of the OED; them finding that reference must have taken more effort than writing the actual definition. It's all my own fault for not reading the SE T&C properly but it's only a couple of answers so it's not strewn throughout the site.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 10:23
  • 4
    @Frank Are you saying that you believe that using the same citation as the OED uses for some sort of use-case constitutes some sort of illegal copyright infringement because they went through the work to find it? And so if the OED cites a sentence from some work by Shakespeare or Emerson as an example of a word used in a particular way, and then you yourself include the duly acknowledged citation from S. or E., then you think this is some sort of problem? I can’t see how that could make sense: the OED holds no copyright on others’ works.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 23:49
  • 1
    @tchrist If you read public.oed.com/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice you'll see that it says and no materials may otherwise be copied, modified, published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without our prior written permission. Had I found that magazine and found that use of the word and cited it in exactly the same format as OED2 have would have been fine, I wouldn't then attribute it to OED2, but I didn't find it I just copied it from OED2. You feel free to think what you want, you go with 'what makes sense' to you; I'm not trying to persuade anyone to change their behaviour.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 4:55
  • @Frank: The page at public.oed.com/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice clearly bears a copyright notice at the bottom yet you've quoted it directly in your comment, thus breaking it! Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 7:56
  • 1
    @hippietrail Indeed, that's exactly why I'm not asking anyone else to think the same way I do - I can choose to break my own 'rules' about breaking rules whenever I please. I'll probably get into trouble for not citing it properly though. ;)
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 8:09
  • 1
    It’s one thing to remove content. It’s quite another to replace it with a bright blue ugly sign saying that you have censored yourself, oh me oh my. This is nothing more than petty vandalism.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 1:39
  • 3
    @Frank OMG. Yes, you can't relicense a public domain work under a CC license. That's why the content remains a public domain work. If I quote Madonna saying something on my blog, which says it's copyrighted by me, it doesn't change the copyright there, either. This is just a bundled mess of misinformation. You seem to know just enough to be horribly wrong. Your misinformed opinions do not change the facts of how copyright works.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 5:30
  • english.stackexchange.com/revisions/182362/2 should be used as the link. Now the original link goes to basically another article. The revision history link should be used to cite the issue being examined, in this case an "Edit Reason" itself titled "Removed OED definition as it is not allowed under my license agreement" at english.stackexchange.com/revisions/182362/2. ("Suggested edits are not allowed on non-tag-wiki posts on meta sites" so sorry for the comment, I do not mean to cause alarm, just bothered me the edit link is not working immediately upon presentation herein.) Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 13:47

4 Answers 4


Do not use this answer as an example of what we can and can't do. We are allowed to quote the OED - they are wrong.

I got in contact with OED, and they said essentially:


We can't use their definitions.

Sorry guys. I didn't mention stack exchange or ELU, so we won't suddenly be getting a letter of complaint (I pretended it was wiki answers).

Their fair usage policy states that you can take individual definitions and quotes as long as it isn't a regular thing, and is not on-line. Occasional usage by newspapers etc. is fine, but not for the type of Q&A that we have here. It is fine to link to the OED, but not quote it at all.

There is an option that SE could buy certain rights, but that is likely to be extortionate (I didn't enquire about actual costs).

It may be sensible (again, I'm also not a lawyer) to use one without this copyright - maybe thefreedictionary.com. I am currently getting in contact with Collins English Dictionary, to find out about their restrictions.

I have contacted Collins with the following email:

I am interested in what the copyright is on the Online Collins Dictionary, and whether I am aloud to do the following:

  1. Quote it on a blog
  2. Link to it on a blog
  3. Quote it on a Q&A site (for example http://wikianswers.com)
  4. Link to it on a Q&A site (for example http://wikianswers.com)
  5. Quote it on a site whereby all the content is:

"licensed to [name removed for confidentiality] under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license."

i.e. anyone can then reuse it as long as it is kept in that licence.

6) Link to it on that site.

The reason for all of this is for helping others with the English Language. Any information posted on the above site is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike meaning that

The Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence allows re-distribution of licensed work on the conditions that the creator is appropriately credited and that nay derivative work is made available under the "same, similar or a compatible licence"

Can I do any of the above?

End of Email.

Reply from collins:

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your email.

We are happy to grant permission for you to use excerpts from the Online Collins Dictionary as outlined below. For the purpose of clarity, this use does not permit derogatory use or allow for alteration of our content. Where possible, please link back to and credit the Online Collins Dictionary.

Given the nature of your use we are happy to waive any copyright fees.

All the best,


  • Thanks for checking.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:33
  • @Kit that's okay. I have also got in touch with the stack exchange team so they can decide if they want to do anything. I have kept it completely confidential, and it would be hard (but not impossible) to link back to SE.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:37
  • 3
    I think the most important thing is that nobody panic. Let's first determine if there is a problem, then we'll figure out what to do about it. I appreciate your initiative in searching for a possible replacement.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:46
  • 4
    Having looked at USCO Circular 21 (PDF) it's possible that limited quotes which actually advertise the worth of a work like OED are indeed covered by US fair use provisions. It's probably even permitted by Section 32(1) of the UK Act as we are in the business of educating question-writers and anyone else who reads the site.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:48
  • Okay, that's fair enough. I take it the moderators (including you) are in touch with the SE team about this...?
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:48
  • @AndrewLeach she was quite clear that the fair usage act didn't cover online reproduction...
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:49
  • 5
    Well of course they'll say that. But have a look at Section 32(1)!
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:50
  • 7
    @Tim I don't think Oxford University Press is actually an authority on fair use.
    – user28567
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:06
  • 5
    Posting a quote is not at all the same thing as reproduction...
    – Marthaª
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 14:07
  • 12
    "weather I am aloud" Ouch! :) Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 3:43
  • 3
    I think you should edit the first one or two lines of your answer because it's not clear what question you are answering. The OP asked "What is this about?" and then you say the answer is "No." Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 7:23
  • 6
    @AndrewLeach I see that Language Log cites the OED quite a bit, sometimes when comparing various dictionaries’ definitions like here, sometimes in isolation like here. If that doesn’t count as fair use, let alone one of the very things which that work is expected to be used for, then I understand neither of those two things.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 23:44
  • 2
    @Andrew, I got a reply from Collins, and am editing to include.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 19:35
  • 4
    I know we don't normally explain downvotes on meta, but I feel I should. This appears to be presented as an Answer. And, as an Answer, it is misleading. What the OED says we can do is not relevant. Fair use doesn't exist at the whim of the copyright holder. This Answer makes it look like it is settled that we cannot quote from the OED, and it is not. Please edit your response to include this, so people won't point to this comment in the future in an argument to prove it's not okay to quote the OED.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 5:24
  • 1
    I am not a copyright lawyer either, and I agree about taking legal advice if you need to be sure. To me the arguments about the UK legislation seems shaky. It's likely that "giving or receiving instruction" here has a specific meaning, it doesn't automatically include "informing someone what's in the OED". I'm also not certain the OED is a "literary, dramatic, musical or artistic" work. Perhaps it's none of the above, and instead an "academic work". If you want to rely on legislation, you have to check it out, you can't just guess what the words mean. Or even use the OED to look them up ;-) Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 21:40

I'm not a lawyer (either), but I think Frank's comment is potentially misleading. None of us can say exactly what OED would accept as "fair use" (or which if any courts in which countries would uphold that position).

So what Frank means is that he thinks OED wouldn't consider citing a definition here on ELU to be "fair use" (or perhaps he just thinks that's at least feasible, and doesn't want to take a chance on being sued for copyright infringement). My position rests on two assumptions...

1: TPTB within SO probably know more about this than most of us users.
If they thought there was likely to be a problem, they'd have told us already.

2: TPTB within OED probably also know more about this than most of us.
If they weren't happy with the situation, they'd have complained to SO already.

On that basis, "I ain't frit".

(from OED)
frit adj. Dial. and colloq.
pa. pple. of fright v. 2a.

  • 3
    Without wanting to get into an argument, it's clear that what happens in SE with OED (and other copyrighted work) is a breach of copyright, almost every source's 'terms of use' disallow reproduction of works. 'Fair Use'(US) is a defence against a charge of copyright infringement, 'Fair Dealing'(UK) is little more organised but the key point is neither 'fair use' nor 'fair dealing' give me a license to the works, so it's not possible for me to re-license it to SE. Which is a breach of SE's terms and conditions - section 3.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 17:31
  • I don't mean to stop people doing what they want with copyrighted material, the question was asked, and I answered it truthfully. I too am not afeard [f. afear v. + -ed. Used more than 30 times by Shakespeare, but rare in literature after 1700, having been supplanted by afraid. It survives everywhere in the popular speech, either as afeard, or 'feard; and has again been used in poetry by W. Morris.] Affected with fear or terror; frightened, afraid. (OED1) but to meet both parties T&C, for me, it's simple - don't copy paste copyrighted works.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 17:36
  • 2
    I'm not worried about being sued or anything like that, it's a matter of principle. I breach SE T&C by posting copyrighted material, I breach OED et al T&C by posting copyrighted material. Again - I don't care what anyone else does, I'm not the copyright police, I was only stating my reasons for removing content that I had no permission to put on this site.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 17:48
  • 2
    A virtual -1 for telling me what I was thinking ;) but this just gets more complicated, OED1 is not under copyright however it is not legal (using CC-asa) to apply another license to out of copyright work - it is public domain. It can only be relicensed after substantive changes. FFS - Rock, meet hard place. Devil, welcome to the deep blue sea, etc. etc. I'll ask that nice Mr Hobson for some guidance on this.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 18:08
  • @Frank: Well, I did put "either" in brackets after IANAL. Maybe you are, and maybe there's absolutely no doubt that current ELU practice infringes copyright - I can't argue that one way or the other. But my position as set out above doesn't depend on me having an opinion as to the strict legal position. Lawyers get paid much more than me to argue about things like that. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 20:19
  • I am not, nor ever have been, a lawyer. I respect your position, it's every persons choice to do what they wish. I was only stating my position, in response to dwjohnstone's question, I was not / am not raising copyright laws as a meta question, just as an answer.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 5:08
  • @FumbleFingers: What does TPTB stand for? Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 22:05
  • @FumbleFingers Have you any idea what the latest view is on this matter? One problem is that even if we edit out OED material we have quoted it still remains visible. I am concerned enough about this, unless some assurance is given, to consider withdrawing from the site.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 17:04
  • @WS2: You're seriously suggesting you might avoid ELU because you're worried the OED might prosecute you for plagiarism? I will freely admit here that I'm not even a legitimate OED user myself anyway - in principle I could have my own valid logon ID if I could be bothered to take out membership of my local public library. But I can't, so I haven't - I just use a friend's ID. And I'm certainly not worried about the possibility of some "OED Nazi" reporting this comment, and me ending up in court for "unauthorised access"! Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:54
  • ...or are you maybe suggesting that you don't want to be associated with such practices (and the people who engage in them) because it's offensively immoral to you? Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:55
  • @FumbleFingers None of those. I just think it unprofessional for Stack Exchange not to have an established procedure re. copyright material. There should be some rules about how, and the extent to which, one quotes, so that we fall within "fair use". The University I went to provided students with guidance on this. I don't expect to get sued, but given that SE claim the right to anything we post, it seems reasonable to expect them to respect others' copyright. It would be one thing if we were dealing with Fly-by-Night Enterprises here, but OUP is an organisation worthy of respect.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 19:24
  • For the record, I don't personally have anything to do with Facebook, Twitter or any of those - as I believe they are totally bereft of social responsibility. They want their cake and eat it all the time. They claim they own all the pictures and material you post, but take no responsibility for anything which you do post which offends someone else. I am hoping SE is better than that.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 19:29
  • @WS2: In this new world of AI-powered software classifiers, I think existing copyright legislation is on a hiding to nothing. What constitutes an "original" [art]work and what's just an "illegal" copy? Can you transfer "your" copy of MS Windows from one computer to another? What about an incredibly accurate copy of the Mona Lisa in your living room, built using data from a drone camera that micro-scanned the original down to the nano-metre?. Intellectual property rights need a serious rethink, imho. Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 11:26

Letting everyone decide for themselves what is and is not a copyright violation is just a horrible, horrible idea. Copyright law isn't a matter of opinion. We need clear policy on what we can and cannot quote. And we need to be able to flag possible copyright violations to be reviewed by people who actually know about copyright.

While I am not a lawyer, I have participated in many discussions about copyright issues with experts, and have learned a great deal. There's stuff I don't know, but the following I know for certain:

  • What the OED says about what is a copyright violation has nothing to do with whether it actually is one. No amount of legal disclaimers will change this.

  • The legal info on Stack Exchange is not an attempt to license quotations from other works. Any such licensing would fail. There is absolutely no legal problem here.

  • Fair use, or its equivalents in other countries, does not exist at the whim of the copyright holder, but is a legal right. Copyright holders can say what they will pursue as violations, but they have no power to change it.

I also know that many, many organizations will quote from UK sources, and many quote from the OED2. These organizations have lawyers who have apparently authorized this use. Absent our own lawyers or citations from lawyers, that's the best information we have on the subject.

Finally, I also know from my experience on YouTube that many, many organizations will lie about what is and is not fair use. The OED is the last source we need to listen to on this subject.

  • 2
    Users can of course decide what to do with this information. But arguments made that ignore any of this are flawed. Frank's argument appears to be one of these, which is why I object so strenuously to it. We should not be crippling answers based on flawed understandings of copyright. That only harms ELU and Stack Exchange in general
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 23:04
  • +1 for that (only) We need clear policy on what we can and cannot quote.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 6:52

Those are my answers and my edits.

I had copied information from OED2 without written permission, which I thought would be OK under a 'fair-use' type policy, however after reading this https://stackexchange.com/legal Section 3. Para.1 (goes on a lot longer than this snippet) I realised that SE demands that I license all content that I add to this site to SE.

You agree that all Subscriber Content that You contribute to the Network is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. You grant Stack Exchange the perpetual and irrevocable 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 in any medium now known or hereinafter developed (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services, even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by You.

Whilst I might be able to argue that copying small parts comes under a 'fair use' policy I can not grant a license to Stack Exchange to other people's copyrighted work under any guise of 'fair use'.

I now no longer add definitions copied from any copyrighted source, if I need to I will provide a link to the source (without including any material) or where possible the material will come from OED1 which is not under copyright.

Some links to UK 'Fair Use' and copyright information (which is what OED/OUP fall under)

http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p09_fair_use http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p27_work_of_others

Note that I am not, in any way, suggesting that others must do the same.

  • 2
    Wait is OED Oxford English Dictionary? I think this seems like it's obviously fair use. Dictionaries are there to be a quoted. Have you got an example of someone getting in trouble for quoting a dictionary?
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 4:07
  • 4
    @dwjohnston Yes, OED2 is Oxford English Dictionary from Oxford University Press. public.oed.com/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice makes it quite clear that copying without written permission is breach of copyright. 'Fair Use' may be applied when copying to a thesis etc. but there is no 'Fair Use' that allows you to grant license to another party for the original parties copyrighted work. I don't care what other people do, but I will not attempt to license copyrighted material to SE.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 4:28
  • @dwj they are, but they still impose restrictions, see my answer regarding getting in touch with them.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:01
  • Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:33
  • 2
    Subscriber Content does not actually seem to be very well-defined in the SE T&C. Offhand, I would think that quotes from dictionaries are not considered Subscriber Content, because they are not content created by Subscriber. Passing it on as your own content would of course be a breach of copyright, but properly quoting and attributing it would (arguably, at least) not be, since you are not claiming it as Subscriber Content. (This is of course separate from Fair Use/Dealing and whether or not OUP has the legal right to interdict quoting definitions outright to begin with.) Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 23:48
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Section 2 of the SE Legal page says (other than Content posted by Subscriber (“Subscriber Content”)) - So 'Subscriber Content' is anything you 'post'; I take 'post' to mean exactly the same as 'send via the internet'. That's my interpretation, and I'm not here to discuss it outside of my own reasons for editing my posts.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 4:38
  • 2
    Posting a quotation does not in any way attempt to relicense a work. If that were so, then my posting a quotation in my English paper would be me claiming it was now under my copyright. Wikipedia, which extensively uses quotations could not use them. Our entire Skeptics Stack Exchange would have to be shut down. You can't even post a link on an SE site unless you quote it.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 5:09
  • @trlkly I don't care what you or anyone else does on any site. I don't care what you think of my understanding of copyright law is. I apply my own rules as I see fit, if I want to copy copyrighted stuff I will, if I don't I won't.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 6:45
  • 3
    I, for one, would be delighted to see an answer from a senior SE employee, or SE's legal advisers, that says Yes, feel free to copy anything from OED2 onto EL&U. Stack Exchange Inc. will indemnify you from any claim or demand made by any third party due to or arising out of any breach of intellectual property or other right of any person or entity as long as the content is properly attributed. or something along those lines.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:00

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