The rather "famous" TOS, section 3, states:
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, except as otherwise set forth herein, 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.
(Here is the full legal text of CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Situation 1: I very frequently see conversations that go like this:
A: ... I decided to write an answer myself pointing out the things that that answer missed. Right as I submit my answer the other answer is edited and the missing information is added, rendering my answer useless. ... So I proceeded to delete my answer only to get reputation notifications from that answer 10 minutes later. It appears that my answer was undeleted.
B: It's not your answer though. You've given the ability to share and modify it under the cc by-sa 3.0 license.
Situation 2: A user rage quits, vandalizes all posts, and is, of course, told that the proper procedure is to request disassociation, with the CC licensing terms cited as the reason.
Here's the thing: To me, there doesn't seem to be a link between the CC BY-SA licensing terms and whether or not a user can remove their own content. My interpretation varies between the above two situations:
Situation 1: A poster deletes one of their own posts in good faith.
Sure, it stinks when a good answer is deleted, but the license, as I read it, basically says that any content you post can be redistributed by anybody, and modified after redistribution, as long as attribution is given, but places no restrictions on your right to remove your own content in this manner. In particular, the license does not seem to justify the misrepresentation of a poster caused by the community undeleting a post that the poster deleted in good faith. SE themselves have the right to undelete content under the terms of Section 3 but, of course, generally doesn't take a heavy-handed approach to this for a single post being deleted for good reasons every once in a while. The licensing terms do not seem relevant here.
Situation 2: A user mass deletes all their own content
This obviously cannot be allowed. However, the reasons that it cannot be allowed, as I read it, do not seem to be encapsulated by the CC BY-SA terms. The real reason is that SE doesn't want this to happen, for various reasons that are, in reality, none of our business. This is justified by TOS section 3 (giving SE themselves the rights to do whatever they want with content as they see fit, including undeleting it which I guess falls under redistribution, and of course we as a community act to help enforce this in our support of SE's policies), but appears unrelated to CC BY-SA itself.
So, in general, my interpretation of the CC BY-SA 3.0 license is that it covers what folks can do with your content after they have read it, in particular, it covers "share", and it covers "adapt". It's TOS Section 3 that gives SE the right to do whatever they want, including undelete it. But nothing in CC BY-SA appears to have any bearing on whether or not you can delete your own content. Indeed the TOS itself makes stipulations for this:
... even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by You.
That is, you can delete your content, but deleting it has no bearing on how the information you posted is redistributed or used later (which may include SE undeleting it). And, again, of course we don't want users mass deleting all of their content, but not implicitly because of CC BY-SA (rather, SE has the right to preserve it under CC BY-SA for any reason, but those reasons are outside of CC BY-SA, and of course this is SE, not the general community), and SE themselves can revive content as they see fit under Section 3, not under CC BY-SA itself. And none of this is justification for saying "the community has undeleted your answer because it's not yours under CC BY-SA" in situation 1.
So, my main question is: What is the actual connection between self-deleting content, the TOS, and CC BY-SA?
My second question is: The line between what is technically allowed under the TOS and CC BY-SA vs. what is socially polite is rather fuzzy (for example, while SE can technically prevent/undo deletion of content, in reality nobody's actually going to do this for a reasonably deleted post here and there). Can we make this line more... concrete? Or at least put it into words?
My goals: I'm not questioning whether or not users should or should not delete their content. That's a whole different debate. But my goals here are, assuming my interpretations above are correct (and please, correct me if I'm wrong, that's part of my question):
- To get folks to either stop misapplying CC BY-SA as the justification for why content is undeleted by the community, especially in situation 1, or, of course, if my interpretation is way off base, to get confirmation that CC BY-SA does indeed remove the right of a user to reasonably delete their content and have it not be undeleted by the community.
- To clarify the differences in SE's rights vs. the community's rights in regard to undeleting content.
One of the behaviors I consistently observe but cannot explain, which I'd really like to get some clarity on, is this: Deleting posts in general is totally acceptable, it happens all the time, there's site mechanics for it, thousands of posts are deleted every day, and as a community we're totally fine with this. But, then, it seems as if as soon as the question of a specific deletion is brought up, all of a sudden it becomes "You can't control your content because of CC BY-SA."
I hope this makes sense. Also I hope I don't sound too biased, I'm actually not. I don't feel strongly either way, I'm only looking for clarity one way or the other.
Official response preferred.