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While Stack Exchange can claim that all posts here are automatically CC BY-SA, that would fail when a user deletes their account (or gets banned) as they then become user5876892 or whatever. So instead of the real username, Stack Exchange would show a fake username. As attribution would be required, it would also be impossible for Stack Exchange to conform to this license. Thus, if an account is deleted then all questions, answers and comments by this user need to be deleted also, or they don't conform to the license. Am I right?

So if an account gets deleted, it would become a copyright violation for Stack Exchange and other users to use any contributions by this deleted user. This means that this content can't stay online and will have to be deleted as well. And I mean complete removal, not just hiding them. The alternative could be to keep the user name with all content but just disable the account.

Even though Stack Exchange has an infinite license on using the content, anyone else would have to comply to the CC license and provide attribution, which cannot be done if SE removed the original user name.


Reminder: this question is about the licensing behind Stack Exchange, not about how to delete stuff. The question is if Stack Exchange is allowed to anonymize content when an account gets suspended, as that would invalidate the attribution for the content.

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    @gnat Not a duplicate. That question doesn't even mention the license. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Sep 27 '19 at 19:58
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog answer to the duplicate addresses exactly same concern about licensing. And the question is about exactly same matter of removing posts along with the account – gnat Sep 27 '19 at 20:40
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    If you're asking if SE has a legal basis, that's a question for your lawyer. Otherwise, all you're going to get is how SE handles deletions. – fbueckert Sep 27 '19 at 20:45
  • Yeah, I actually know a lawyer who might be interested in answering it, but I first want to see how SE itself interprets it. – Wim ten Brink Sep 28 '19 at 0:51
  • @gnat, There is a difference as I'm specifically focusing on the license that users grant on their content. This is the CC-BY-SA license. But if an account is deleted then attribution will be removed also. And without proper attribution, the content can't stay. So either the content has to be deleted also, or the username cannot be removed even if an account is deleted. That's the point of discussion here. – Wim ten Brink Sep 28 '19 at 0:54
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    CC BY-SA only requires attribution if it’s provided. If you delete your account and therefore request your attribution to be removed, attribution is not provided. Because the license accounts for that, your removal of attribution causes zero problem for SE or others wanting to use the content and correctly follow the CC BY-SA license. – SevenSidedDie Sep 28 '19 at 1:43
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  • @PeterMortensen, I want the opposite! I want my name to remain while the account is closed. For example, when someone just wants to leave SE yet still wants his posts to be found. – Wim ten Brink Sep 29 '19 at 12:49
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    @WimtenBrink Then just log out and delete your password. – Dan Bron Sep 29 '19 at 18:44
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No, by deleting your account, you are also requesting that your attribution be removed from all of your posts, which the CC licenses (2.5, 3.0, and 4.0) allow.

You are notified of this fact at the time you delete your account, so there is no license violation on SE's part by keeping your posts here.

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    I don't think SE can legally change the copyrights on those answers, as SE isn't the author. So the CC-BY-SA stays the same and they would not be allowed to anonymize the content. Users ask to have their account deleted so while SE can keep their content, they cannot just change the username. That's my point. – Wim ten Brink Sep 27 '19 at 19:29
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    @WimtenBrink On the page you go to to request deletion of your account, it's clearly outlined that by doing so, you're also requesting under the license that your attribution be removed. They thus can change it. (As a matter of fact, since the changed username is unique - it's "user" followed by your account ID - some would argue that your attribution isn't being completely removed.) – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Sep 27 '19 at 19:32
  • True, but while someone might want their account removed, they might not want their content to be anonymized. After all, it's still their content so they should still be able to be attributed correctly. So if I want to leave SE but want to keep my content here with proper attribution then I can't leave at all. Doesn't sound right to me... – Wim ten Brink Sep 27 '19 at 20:15
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    @WimtenBrink The license does not mandate that SE gives you the possibility of removing your account. Privacy laws in some locales (e.g. the EU) mandate that SE gives you the possibility of deleting all identifying information, but that would include your name. Offhand I can't think of a legal requirement that would require SE to honor requests to both keep your display name and remove other identifying information. It's not nice for SE not to allow this, but not-nice doesn't imply illegal. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 27 '19 at 20:28
  • @Gilles Deleting an account doesn't mean the attribution has to be removed. SE now deletes the attribution for comments as "punishment" for users who close their account. That seems invalid to me, as you can still use content with the proper attribution because of the granted CC license. So in my opinion, either the content needs to be deleted or the attribution must stay unchanged. – Wim ten Brink Sep 27 '19 at 20:43
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    @WimtenBrink: Requesting the removal of attribution certainly does require the attribution to be removed. Stack Exchange does not allow you to delete your account without simultaneously making such a request. Perhaps they morally ought to do so, but there's no legal requirement for it. – Kevin Sep 27 '19 at 21:03
  • @Kevin, good point, although laws in Europe might make it a requirement. But do EU laws apply to SE? Anyways, my question is more if SE is allowed to force users to abandon attribution on their content when their accounts are closed. For example, when SE closes an account for violating rules or whatever. – Wim ten Brink Sep 28 '19 at 0:57
  • @WimtenBrink SE's moderation strategy has mostly changed from deleting accounts that violate rules to suspending them for long periods of time. Nowadays, the only accounts that are deleted are those with no visible posts. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Sep 28 '19 at 1:05
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog, Didn't know that accounts aren't banned anymore. Suspending accounts would be okay, even if the suspension is forever, as suspended accounts will maintain proper attribution. But that would mean that you can't get your account deleted, just suspended indefinitely, with a name change... – Wim ten Brink Sep 28 '19 at 1:29
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    @WimtenBrink If you'd like for there to be a way to delete accounts without also simultaneously making a dissociation request, you should make a new feature-request. Do note that if you do, keep in mind that the usernames used to not be anonymized for account deletions in Stack Exchange's early years; it was changed around 2011-2012 or so. If you want your request to have more traction, you should research why it was changed and the arguments for changing it, and rebut those arguments. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Sep 29 '19 at 21:47
  • @WimtenBrink - Stack Exchange is indeed bound by privacy laws in the EU. – Ramhound Sep 29 '19 at 22:42
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By posting your content here, you agreed to the Terms of Service which

grant Stack Overflow the perpetual and irrevocable right and license to access, use, process, copy, distribute, export, display and to commercially exploit such Subscriber Content

Whether the content is licensed via CC BY-SA 3.0 4.0 or not doesn't matter.

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  • True, but the TOS does refer to the CC-BY-SA license that users would grant. Thus SO needs to keep showing the user name as the attribution needs to stay, or remove the content. I don't think a name change would be legal. – Wim ten Brink Sep 27 '19 at 19:24
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    @WimtenBrink, when you agreed to the TOS, you agreed to two licenses. You licensed your posts to the world at large under CC-BY-SA, and you licensed your posts to StackExchange, Inc. to "access, use, process, copy, distribute, export, display and to commercially exploit" without the requirement of attribution. – Mark Sep 27 '19 at 20:06
  • But the CC-BY-SA license will be impossible once my account becomes anonymous. People can't give proper attribution as I would be user986719807 instead of WimTenBrink. It's my content so even if my account gets closed, my name still belongs with my content. Right? – Wim ten Brink Sep 27 '19 at 20:17
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    This answer is wrong. You're quoting a sentence fragment out of context. The sentence begins with “You agree that any and all content (…) is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow (…) pursuant to Creative Commons licensing terms (CC-BY-SA)”. Admittedly the second part of the sentence is ambiguous: it doesn't explicitly say whether it's making a clarification to that same grant or giving a different grant. However, since these are “take-it-or-leave-it” terms, ambiguity is generally resolved in favor of the non-drafting party. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 27 '19 at 20:24
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    @WimtenBrink your display name doesn't really mean anything because you can change it every 30 days. The system only considers you as "user with ID 986719807", and when you delete your account, the display name is reset to the default user<ID number>. It also means that technically, you can fulfill the attribution by linking to the user account with users/<ID number>/irrelevant-display-name-slug, but it will just return "HTTP 404 Page not found" since deleted. – Meta Andrew T. Sep 28 '19 at 9:06
  • @MetaAndrewT. But that depends on the display name, right? When an account gets closed, the last display name should remain and not be replaced by user096412. That's because some people can easily be found because they use the same display name everywhere and are still the authors of the content. – Wim ten Brink Sep 29 '19 at 12:53
  • @WimtenBrink I see there are 2 sides of this: 1) yes, they may use the same display name everywhere, but 2) display names are not unique (search for "Tim" on users list and can be changed every 30 days. Now, my display name is "Meta Andrew T." on MSE, but also previously "Meatball", "Elephant", "and myself", etc... – Meta Andrew T. Sep 29 '19 at 13:15

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