I asked Stack Exchange staff to remove attribution on some of my deleted answers.

They suggested I delete my account to remove attribution. I have asked them if they will restore attribution on other posts after deletion, as required by the CC BY-SA license, and am awaiting their response.

Their email stated: "Unfortunately deleting your profile is your only option here if you feel that strongly about removing the posts from the history of your profile - we do not disassociate posts that are already deleted."

My understanding of the following section of the license is that Stack Exchange must remove attribution by request. The answers have been edited, creating adaptations.

Section 4.a: "If You create an Adaptation, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Adaptation any credit as required by Section 4(c), as requested.

Is refusal to disassociate deleted posts in compliance with the CC BY-SA license?

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    I have a feeling you aren't telling us the whole story here. I very strongly doubt SE would tell you to remove your account unless you have been flooding them with post disassociation requests. Granted, they are required to comply with requests to disassociate posts from an account, but it's also within their rights to do so by removing the account. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 8:31
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    @yannis There is nothing more to add. I asked them, that was their response by email. I appreciate that account deletion is a valid solution for disassociating posts, but the flaw with that method is that they are then obligated to restore attribution on an even larger number of posts so it just makes the situation worse. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 8:39
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    In the general case, "How do I bring the site into compliance?" has exactly one answer: Sue them. If you can't afford a lawyer, your options are limited to various methods of non-binding persuasion. This is applicable in almost any case in which you're dealing with a potential contractual breach. Because, spoiler alert, the way to handle violations of legally-binding contracts is through contract law. – Nathan Tuggy Sep 7 '17 at 8:55
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    You're failing to mention that the posts in question are already deleted, and that you're also facing an answer block. And these details matter ;) – JNat Sep 7 '17 at 9:03
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    I don't really see what relevance the posts being deleted has. It's a licencing issue. But yes, I'm not trying to hide that, it just seems irrelevant. Edit: This is now clear in the question. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 9:05
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    @S.L.Barth My guess is this is OPs attempt at legalese intimidation to get out of an answer ban. – user308386 Sep 7 '17 at 9:25
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    Why would you want to remove attribution from posts that are already deleted? These posts only show up for you, moderators and (in the case of answers) > 10k rep users. They won't appear in searches or in API queries so no one should be able to copy them. – ChrisF Sep 7 '17 at 9:29
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    The CC-BY-SA license grants me the right to control attribution on material I authored. I have the right to change that attribution to anything within reason, including nothing. I am not attempting to intimidate anyone, I have already stated that I wish to avoid going the legal route. @S.L.Barth, please check my previous comments before making inflammatory statements like that. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 9:41
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    If you delete your account, attribution will be removed from all of your posts, deleted or otherwise. – Oded Sep 7 '17 at 9:45
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    @ゼーロ Er, I did not mean to say anything inflammatory. (The comment on intimidation actually came from another user). I'm really just trying to understand. Now, IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer), but I think your interpretation of CC-BY-SA might be wrong. It says "you must give appropriate credit" (emphasis mine). So removing attribution might be a violation of the license. – S.L. Barth - Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '17 at 9:46
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    @ゼーロ Could you backup your position about CC-BY-SA 3.0 granting this right to the licensor (you) with a quote and link in your question ? – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 9:49
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    @S.L.Barth Section 4(a): "If You create an Adaptation, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Adaptation any credit as required by Section 4(c), as requested." - Btw, you are quoting the summary, not the actual license. The summary is only meant to give a quick overview. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 9:52
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    @Tensibai IANAL, but a single character edit from anyone (including the original author) is all that takes to make the answer an adaptation. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 9:58
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    @ゼーロ if you wish people to not assume anything, then take care of your wording, "How can I stop.." (your tittle) could be easily reworded to "Is SE in line with CC-BY-SA ?" and explaining your case with enough details on why you feel SE is violating the license. Be prepared to get feedback saying you're interpretation is false also. If you turn from accusation to call for confirmation of your interpretation and if confirmed way to act it would be far better received IMHO – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 10:33
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    If you feel that the Adaptation is not accurate, why not simply revert it to your original post. I don't think anyone will care about reverting a deleted post to your original. Then you don't have to worry about being misrepresented. You have the ability to remove the adapted content, so I don't see what the problem is. – AJ Henderson Sep 7 '17 at 14:07

TLDR: There's a "subscriber licence" as well, under section 3 of the TOS. That covers what you're talking about. So, in this specific case, the CC licence may not actually matter.

I'd point you at the terms of service. IANAL, so my interpretations might be a little loose, and if you really want to persue this, you shouldn't take my answer as legal advice.

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.

Notice the terms "perpetually" (which means forever) and "irrevocably" (which means no takesbacksies).

It also says

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

Which very neatly covers SE's right to publish your content, and edits. This also seems independent of the CC licence, which I would add kinda renders the whole "are they violating creative commons" a bit void since your content is licenced to SE under the content licence. I'd guess we're under a dual licence to handle things like your question, but once again, IANAL.


Stack Exchange reserves the right to remove any Subscriber Content from the Network, re-post to the Network any Subscriber Content removed by any Subscriber or former Subscriber, suspend or terminate Subscriber’s right to use the Services at any time, or pursue any other remedy or relief available to Stack Exchange and/or the Network under equity or law, for any reason (including, but not limited to, upon receipt of claims or allegations from third parties or authorities relating to such Subscriber Content or if Stack Exchange is concerned that Subscriber may have breached the immediately preceding sentence), or for no reason at all.

Which covers the right to delete and undelete content presumably.

I'd note, its only around this point that the CC even comes into play, and it seems like the TOS you've agreed to already handles most of your concerns.

See also

In the event that You post or otherwise use Subscriber Content outside of the Network or Services, with the exception of content entirely created by You, You agree that You will follow the attribution rules of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license as follows

Essentially what this says is is you use someone elses content you should play by the same rules.

On the CC licence itself under which you have granted Stack Exchange a licence

License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below:

Notice the terms - perpetual.

IANAL, but if you read the licence carefully, the sections talk about adaptations and collections

"Adaptation" means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.

Arguably, your answer isn't an adaption. It is an original work, that may be an adaptation of other things. Since I'm not a lawyer, I have no idea if an edit is an adaptation but I wouldn't consider it to be a work based on another work.

An answer based on another answer would be.

"Collection" means a collection of literary or artistic works, such as encyclopedias and anthologies, or performances, phonograms or broadcasts, or other works or subject matter other than works listed in Section 1(f) below, which, by reason of the selection and arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual creations, in which the Work is included in its entirety in unmodified form along with one or more other contributions, each constituting separate and independent works in themselves, which together are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation (as defined below) for the purposes of this License.

Might be a page of posts? In any case, if you read this far... thank you.

Practically speaking, terms of service and licences are probably drafted by lawyers so... finding loopholes will require a somewhat crooked mind and decent legal knowledge. There's probably no violation of your user agreement or licences with SE here.

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    What about section 4c? That's the critical part that you fail to address. The rest is largely irrelevant, as the issue is not publishing, it's attribution. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 12:21
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    Read the TOS too - you've also licenced your content to SE/SO under a content licence. I don't even talk about CC itself until like 2/3 way down the answer, and that's cause I'd written it before I realised the TOS covered your specific case under the content licence. – Journeyman Geek Sep 7 '17 at 12:23
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    "licensed to Stack Exchange under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license." What part of this suggests that the CC license does not apply? – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 12:25
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    The part where you've also licenced your content to SE under the "content licence". Its the next sentence. – Journeyman Geek Sep 7 '17 at 12:27
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    That just expands on the rights granted under the CC-BY-SA license as they apply to SE. It's not a separate license, it's the same one built on top of the CC terms. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 12:32
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    @ゼーロ re-read the TOS: "You grant Stack Exchange the perpetual and irrevocable right and license to use,[...] even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by You." and "Stack Exchange reserves the right to [..] re-post to the Network any Subscriber Content removed by any Subscriber or former Subscriber [...] or for no reason at all.". – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:41
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    This is a very confusing answer, partly because it's focused on details irrelevant to the discussion and partly because it suggests that SE's "content license" applies additional restrictions to CC BY-SA. Something that CC BY-SA explicitly forbids. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 12:41
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    @Tensibai What's your point? No one's arguing against SE's right to use the material. The issue is with proper attribution. Which - according to CC BY-SA - includes the right to have your name removed from a post at any time. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 12:43
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    @yannis there's nothing stopping content from having more than one licence. TBH, I'm probably better off stripping off all the CC related bits from my answer., cause to me that confuses the issue. – Journeyman Geek Sep 7 '17 at 12:44
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    @yannis Well the "no reason at all" given on the content when accepting the TOS give a large amount of right on the content. – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:46
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    @JourneymanGeek There is something stopping you, and that's the licenses themselves. CC BY-SA is rendered invalid if additional restrictions are applied. You can have as many licenses as you want, as long as they are compatible. Your interpretation of SE's "content license" is not compatible with CC BY-SA. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 12:48
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    @yannis and so " Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 will survive any termination of this License." section 4 doesn't apply anymore, case closed ? BTW I see no point in CC preventing a dual licensing of content, a quote or link ? – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:53
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    @ゼーロ by section 5 first sentence: "UNLESS OTHERWISE MUTUALLY AGREED TO BY THE PARTIES IN WRITING, LICENSOR OFFERS THE WORK AS-IS " I'd say not – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:56
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    @ゼーロ the requirement for attribution (section 4) falls as soon as the license is violated, as it was per your analysis, the work is offered as-is to the network in its actual state and the TOS are the last licensing you agreed with, granting the use of the content for "no reason at all" – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 13:04
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    Its not a modification of a licence, its a seperate licence. I can choose to licence my work under any licence I want, and by agreeing with the TOS, you're agreeing with both. There's no additional restrictions on the CC. There's a whole different licence – Journeyman Geek Sep 7 '17 at 13:08

The important part of the mail which should be considered is this one

we do not disassociate posts that are already deleted.

Granted CC-BY-SA 3.0 section 4(a):

If You create an Adaptation, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Adaptation any credit as required by Section 4(c), as requested.

One possible reason of no disassociation for deleted posts is that the whole application of this 4(a) part is an exception for 4(c) which states:

If You Distribute, or Publicly Perform the Work or any Adaptations or Collections, You must, unless a request has been made pursuant to Section 4(a), keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and provide,[...]

I assume that in Stack Exchange point of view, a deleted post is not distributed as it is not public (the possibility to view it is largely restricted) and the license define distribute as follow:

"Distribute" means to make available to the public the original and copies of the Work or Adaptation, as appropriate, through sale or other transfer of ownership.

This is still not a legal advice but I hope this shed another light on Stack Exchange position which may not be violating the license finally.

From unor's comment, this answer on another Q/A has a very valid point about publicly available, this could be considered not publicly available if it was restricted to Stack Exchange employees, as such my assumption above doesn't really stand anymore.

Being debatable on a moral point of view, the license state literally "to the extent practicable".

Stack Exchange may argue that this would be "a technical act not included in the current software and apt to bring risks to the company and subject to impact millions of authors against their will and this is out of the 'practicable' scope".
This stand against your request as you have possibilities to work around the problem by un-deleting those answers and then requesting their disassociation. This last option is a known process that even it is as risky as on deleted posts is mandatory by the license.

So I'll go this way to answer the original question:

  1. Undelete the answers of concern (see here for guidance)
  2. click on the contact us link to request disassociation of the posts.

If your answers were deleted by moderator or 20k+ users then the problem is a little harder, you would have to edit before to bring it as an actual honest attempt to answer the question before asking for undelete or there's good chances you won't be able have them undeleted. And if you edit them in something useful there's few interest in keeping them deleted.

One last option would be to roll-back any edit on your answers if you doesn't like what is associated with your profile in those answers and get back to the original form.

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    The problem is that on Stack Exchange deleted posts are still visible to some users. This they are still being distributed and made available. I suppose you could argue "not to the public", it depends if "the public" includes any registered user with high reputation. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 11:03
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    I'd refer to publicly perform definition, this sounds as unrestricted publication, a small subset if users having extended rights doesn't sounds corresponding to a definition of public for me (but again, if you want to go down this path, contact a lawyer) – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 11:08
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    The other flaw in this argument is that if I do as they suggest and delete my account, they would still be publishing the other answers and they would definitely be publicly accessible. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 11:20
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    @ゼーロ but those answers would be disassociated with your username, as the whole content you ever wrote on the site. – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:07
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    @ゼーロ The license say "to the extent practicable", giving a all or nothing choice, even if debatable, is a valid option. on account deletion all post are re associated to an anonymous account to comply with your request of the content not being associated anymore. By the deletion request you're expressing a wish to disassociate the content with your username. If you wish deleted post to be disassociated while keeping your account and association with other content the obvious way is to un-delete them before request. – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:18
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    @ゼーロ you're arguing they do violate the license, prove it, you're the attacker. For now I've nothing to let me think there's a violation of the license in any way. If you delete your account, and then resubscribe to the site, content is re associated to your account IIRC. – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:32
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    My bad, content is definitely linked to anonymous user: "Deletion is irreversible and you can't have your stuff back if you go through with it." meta.stackexchange.com/questions/300185/… – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 12:35
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    @ゼー While deleted posts are visible to some users, they are not visible to everybody (non users, and low rep users can't see them). This means that they are not "public" (available to everybody). An analogy would be exhibiting pictures in a room in a members only club that would be illegal to exhibit on the street. – ChrisF Sep 7 '17 at 12:53
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    @ChrisF in most legal jurisdictions display in some kind of member's only club is considered public display. If it was not, you could have a member's only cinema that showed films without paying any royalties. – user369690 Sep 7 '17 at 12:57
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    Your practicality argument is key. The only reason (afaik) that SE does not automatically disassociate posts from accounts upon request is the very real potential for abuse: people very often try to use disassociation to evade account blocks & suspensions. Honouring every request without solving that problem would significantly affect the site's operation. – yannis Sep 7 '17 at 13:05
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    @ゼーロ In the end, the only thing you can do to make SE comply the way you think it should is sue them. And if you do that, they'll probably purge you and your content from the network and be done with it. – user308386 Sep 7 '17 at 13:05
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    @ゼーロ the juridiction applying here is by TOS "This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the state of Delaware without regard to the conflict of laws provisions thereof." – Tensibai Sep 7 '17 at 13:06
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    As to your advice suggesting undeletion, then disassociation, this wouldn't work at all if the post was deleted by a moderator or 20k users (not sure if that's the case or not), and it would also leave the post in a public state afterward, which doesn't sound desirable in this situation (unless the post would merit moderator deletion, but wasn't deleted by a mod, in which case they could undelete, flag for dissociation, then flag for deletion). – Servy Sep 7 '17 at 14:40
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    @Tensibai Sure, it's great that you mentioned it, I just felt the need to indicate that it's not without it's flaws, and that it's likely not a practical solution, even if it theoretically could be one. – Servy Sep 7 '17 at 14:55
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    CC BY-SA 3.0’s definition of Distribute should apply also to deleted posts on Stack Exchange sites (see the last paragraph in the linked answer, and the comments). – unor Sep 8 '17 at 6:43