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I can understand the Creative Commons license pretty clear-cut when it comes to normal content visible anywhere on the network, but does anything change when that content has been deleted? I've recently run into a situation where I'd like to reference some content from a question which has since been deleted, and I'm not sure how exactly that content is covered by the license.

Most notably, how does it affect attribution? Sometimes users delete things as an alternate method of dissociating the post from their account without actually having to hassle the Stack Exchange team with manually removing their ID. I don't want to go and disrespect their wishes by directly saying "this content was posted by this user here" if they don't actually want to have their name referenced. As a moderator, I could post a comment on the deleted post and ask if they want to be attributed, but a) that seems like a slight abuse of the privilege and b) they'd have to undelete the post to respond to that comment (which isn't even possible if the question is also deleted). So there's no effective way to communicate with the user to ask them outside of posting off-topic comments elsewhere or hoping to catch them in chat.

Similarly, who exactly are we supposed to attribute if the user has since been deleted and there isn't anyone to attribute anymore? Just go with whatever the plain-text name is? State the account has since been deleted?

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Hmm... this is a really interesting question! –  Andrew Barber Oct 14 '13 at 4:34
I always thought moderators were meant to abuse their powers. –  hjpotter92 Oct 14 '13 at 4:44
For the first scenario, I think the situation is pretty clear cut. The OP grants SO a perpetual and irrevocable license to use the content he moment it is posted. The only obligation SO has in terms of limiting that is he disassociation process. Deletion does not take awa Stack Overflow's right to distribute the content. The second scenario is interesting. If SO removes a user, technically, they are in violation of the CC-Wiki license if they continue that user's contributions. Not that it's very likely to ever become relevant, but it is an interesing problem. –  Pëkka Oct 14 '13 at 4:44
I agree with @perhapsPekka here. Even if the content is deleted the CC-BY-SA still sticks to it, as far as I know the CC licenses are not revocable. The content is jsut removed from this site, but it's still licensed under the CC. If a user wants to disassociate themselves, they need to do this the correct way. –  Time Traveling Bobby Oct 14 '13 at 8:54
I don't really see how this is different from referencing undeleted content which gets deleted afterwards. If Pekka is right, stating that the account has been deleted is probably the right thing to do, if for no other reason than to prevent Stack Overflow from getting into trouble. You shouldn't, as all 10k users can see deleted content (as opposed to things only a moderator can see, which may be non-public and thus you could be at fault for revealing this information). Well, that's just what I think. –  Dukeling Oct 14 '13 at 9:08
I think that if user wants to be disassociated from his content, or deletes his account, it should count as "Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder." –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 9:47
@Molot yeah, I think so too, but what about involuntary deletions - e.g. spammers? –  Pëkka Oct 14 '13 at 12:31
@perhapsPekka well, their content shouldn't be reposted at all (why to redistribute spam?!), and if there ever is a need to, they should be fully attributed as far as possible. They should take all the blame they earn. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 12:40
@Molot Spammers are a bad example. Say somebody ragequitting... but that arguably falls in the "wanted to be deleted" category. Right, maybe there aren't that many instances of somebody getting their account removed against their will and contributions still surviving. –  Pëkka Oct 14 '13 at 12:42

2 Answers 2

With the usual caveat that I'm not a lawyer, I think it works something like this: when someone submits content to SE, they are doing so under the terms of the CC license, which means that if SE chooses to redistribute that content, they must do so under the same license. However, SE is not under any obligation to distribute the content. When a post is deleted, SE is simply declining to redistribute the post's contents to anyone other than moderators and 10k users. But as far as I know, the terms under which SE distributes deleted content to moderators and 10k users are no different from the terms under which SE distributes undeleted content to everybody. (And in fact, I'm pretty sure they can't be, since SE received the content under the SE license in the first place and is thus not authorized to distribute it under any other license.) So the attribution requirements for a deleted post would be the same as if the post weren't deleted: you have to identify the source and the author's account name, and link to the source and author's profile if it's in a hyperlinkable medium. For deleted content, those links may be broken, but they're still legally required. Even if you think the OP may not want to be attributed, you're still required to do so - the alternative is that you don't redistribute it at all.

If the account has been deleted such that you actually can't get a URL for the user's profile, I think that technically means you can't redistribute the content at all. After all, the general rule with licenses is that any redistribution (like any of the other behaviors protected under copyright law) is illegal by default, but you get an exception that allows you to do it as long as you are able to fully comply with the terms of the license. "Best effort" or "do as much as possible" compliance doesn't count.

Of course, note that just referencing an answer is not a reserved right under copyright law (in the US at least). You'd have to actually copy some amount of it, or share something that qualifies as a derivative work, which means that it's substantially based on the answer, more or less.

But like I said, I'm no lawyer, so perhaps someone from SE or someone who's more familiar with the licenses will clarify/correct this.

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I don't think not being able to link to user's profile affects the right to redistribute the content. Otherwise it would be a major loophole in the CC license: you could essentially revoke the license just by removing the page that the license asks to link to. –  Juhana Oct 14 '13 at 10:30
@Juhana CC requires attribution, but if link is impossible, any other way to identify author is allowed. Only not identifying him at all is CC violation. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:40
@Juhana that wouldn't really be revoking the license, legally speaking. This needs someone more familiar with the CC licenses to resolve it. My understanding has been that the license requires attribution in the matter specified by the licensor, and in that sense it does include a loophole. –  David Z Oct 14 '13 at 10:45
@Juhana subtle difference between "I don't think it is that way" and "it isn't that way" - I am sure that point 4b allows other kinds of attribution. Maybe it's my lack of skill in English, but your comment seemed less definitive (if that's the right word). No disrespect meant. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:45
@Mołot what's your source that any other way to identify the author is allowed? –  David Z Oct 14 '13 at 10:48
Licence itself, full version: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/legalcode / creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode point 4b lists ways and lists "(i) the name of the Original Author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied". –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:52
@Mołot but the relevant part here is "(iii) to the extent reasonably practicable, the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work;" Although now I'm wondering what is the legal justification for the licensor specifying their attribution requirements. I always thought it was in there but now that I go back and read the license again, I'm not seeing it. –  David Z Oct 14 '13 at 10:57
"if any" means that when there is no URI any more, this point has no effect. Also, "Best effort" or "do as much as possible" may not count, as you stated in your answer, but while posting under CC, author agrees that "reasonable means" do ;) If the OP does not specifies URI any longer and you attributed him "to the extent reasonably practicable", you are OK without posting a link. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:59
@Mołot there can't be no URI anymore, though. The URI would be given by the licensor as a supplement to the original license grant. If the URI ceases to be valid (e.g. if it starts showing an error page, or if the content that was originally there is no longer there), it doesn't retroactively go back and erase the requirement of giving the URI as part of the attribution, does it? That would make very little sense. Although I agree that if one is not able to actually determine the URI in the first place, then perhaps "to the extent reasonably practicable" has been satisfied. –  David Z Oct 14 '13 at 11:18
@DavidZ nothing retroactive - requirement to provide attribution happens when work is redistributed, not when the original work is posted. If at the moment of redistribution there is no URI, requirement is void. Of course posts that was made when there was valid URI, should keep it. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 11:21
let us continue this discussion in chat –  David Z Oct 14 '13 at 11:24
@DavidZ I'm at work, chat doesn't work very well here. And I don't think I'll have any more to add, over what was already said. And if anything, this discussion should go to CC chat. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 11:28

My proposition is: If user asks to be disassociated with his content, or deletes his account, he should be forced to check:

I waive the attribution requirement on a content I posted on Stack Exchange pages, and grant Stack Exchange and it's user right to use my content without attributing it to me.

Of course in disassociation process it should affect only one post.

For deleted questions, it might be a good think to add this as an option, but I'm not quite sure.

Can I waive license terms or conditions?

Yes. You may choose to waive some license terms or conditions. Works licensed using CC but with additional permissions granted or conditions waived may be compatibly licensed with other works under the same license. The 3.0 licenses specifically permit this, and our CC+ protocol provides a mechanism for facilitating that grant.

Above from CC FAQ

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Can you elaborate how CC+ is relevant here? As I can understand this, it's a simple way for dual-licensing the content, which is not relevant here. So it only effects consumers of the content, not the creators. –  Time Traveling Bobby Oct 14 '13 at 9:57
@TimeTravelingBobby "second licence" would be simply waive attribution requirement for certain posts, to clearly show if user wishes to be attributed or not. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 9:59
Sorry, I still don't see how this effects the license. If the user wants to be disassociated from the content, there's still SE holding it. So the license of the content is still unaffected, only the 'original' owner is gone, but it's now under the SE flag...at least that's how I understood it so far. –  Time Traveling Bobby Oct 14 '13 at 10:01
@TimeTravelingBobby if the user wants to be disassociated from the content, CC obligates SE to contribute it to him none the less. Unless he clearly waives this obligation. Also, CC obligates further users to attribute all of the authors, so the first one should pass his waive down the line and make it clearly visible. And with CC there is no thing like "holder". There are only authors. It's on SE server but this does not give SE any special rights about it (again, until added by special add-on licence). –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:08
@TimeTravelingBobby long story short, CC+ is a way to waive attribution requirement suggested by official CC FAQ. Right or wrong, that's how CC guys wants it to be handled. Updated my answer to reflect that in a way not suggesting it was my idea. –  Mołot Oct 14 '13 at 10:11

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