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It seems to me that SE holds contradictory positions:

  1. That the users own the copyright to their content
  2. That the users cannot remove their own content from the site
  3. That there is no 'consideration' other than the act of publication, and SE can dictate the publication terms, change the TOS, etc.

So I'd like to understand how this is possible. Am I missing something? I'm not a lawyer but I'm pretty sure this isn't legal under a multiplicity of theories.

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  • Because by posting here you've also given permission to SE to use you content. Part of using your content is displaying it. – NathanOliver Oct 24 '19 at 18:22
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    You agree that any and all content, including without limitation any and all text, graphics, logos, tools, photographs, images, illustrations, software or source code, audio and video, animations, and product feedback (collectively, “Content”) that you provide to the public Network (collectively, “Subscriber Content”), is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow on a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis pursuant to Creative Commons licensing terms (CC-BY-SA) – rene Oct 24 '19 at 18:23
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    This means that you cannot revoke permission for Stack Overflow to publish, distribute, store and use such content and to allow others to have derivative rights to publish, distribute, store and use such content. – rene Oct 24 '19 at 18:23
  • I get that Nathan. The issue I'm talking about is the IN PERPETUITY of it. You can't delete or remove your content. There is no consideration [legal consideration... i.e. payment]. Pretty sure there is case law related to music contracts. – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 18:24
  • You still own the copyright but you granted an additional license on your content to SE. – rene Oct 24 '19 at 18:24
  • Thanks rene! Put that in an answer. – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 18:25
  • it maybe a simple, even naive question, but it's not something everyone thinks about all the time. the answer is not obvious either unless you spent some time thinking about it. hence, it and its answers are valuable to many people. i wouldn't downvote it – Aksakal almost surely binary Oct 24 '19 at 18:44
  • I upvoted this because I often seen confusion about copyright very similar to this, both on SE and elsewhere. Note that even though I have a measly 178 rep here, I could have downvoted, so there's no reason to think downvotes are mods. – Gort the Robot Oct 24 '19 at 20:36
  • The downvotes might be because some users think the question "does not show any research effort" (e.g. the terms of service that @rene posted) or it's "not useful" (because to them perhaps the answer is obvious). If you hover over the DV arrow you'll see that these are offered as reasons to downvote. I've upvoted you because while I was aware of the ToS, the non-deletion implications hadn't occurred to me. Don't sweat the DVs: they're like a few insect bites on a tropical island. – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Oct 24 '19 at 21:59
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I own several books, movie tapes and music cassettes. I do not own the copyright of any of them.

No matter what the rightful copyright owners of those materials wish they can't delete my copies since I've acquired those copies legally. Surely you also would feel uncomfortable if copyright holders could delete your books.

SE has also acquired your content legally since you have agreed to the Terms of Service.

You agree that any and all content, including without limitation any and all text, graphics, logos, tools, photographs, images, illustrations, software or source code, audio and video, animations, and product feedback (collectively, “Content”) that you provide to the public Network (collectively, “Subscriber Content”), is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow on a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis pursuant to Creative Commons licensing terms (CC-BY-SA), and you 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, even if such Subscriber Content has been contributed and subsequently removed by you as reasonably necessary to, for example (without limitation).

  • Provide, maintain, and update the public Network
  • Process lawful requests from law enforcement agencies and government agencies
  • Prevent and address security incidents and data security features, support features, and to provide technical assistance as it may be required
  • Aggregate data to provide product optimization

This means that you cannot revoke permission for Stack Overflow to publish, distribute, store and use such content and to allow others to have derivative rights to publish, distribute, store and use such content. The CC-BY-SA Creative Commons license terms are explained in further detail by Creative Commons, but you should be aware that all Public Content you contribute is available for public copy and redistribution, and all such Public Content must have appropriate attribution.

As stated above, by agreeing to these Public Network Terms you also agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of the Acceptable Use Policy incorporated herein, and hereby acknowledge and agree that any and all Public Content you provide to the public Network is governed by the Acceptable Use Policy.

SE only loses the rights conferred by that agreement if the agreement becomes invalid. Like in the case of a violation of the agreement by SE.

  • Thanks Jose. So I think the position is that SE owns can publish under terms, and can also change those terms, and do that in perpetuity. OK. My next question is has this ever been tested in a court? Because I'm pretty sure that's the DEFINITION of non-consideration. No money, forever, and I can change the terms. Got it! – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 18:44
  • the first two paragraphs is all you need to understand the argument. great – Aksakal almost surely binary Oct 24 '19 at 18:44
  • @JohnDee Regarding changing terms. They of course cannot change the terms of an agreement between you and them. They can change the terms of the Terms of Service and from that moment onwards anything you publish is under those new terms. But your old posts are still governed by whatever terms you agreed to when you made the post. I know of no instance of SE's terms ever being challenged in court. But considering the illegal retroactive move to CC-BY-SA-4.0 it is not an unthinkable thing. – SE infringes copyright Oct 24 '19 at 18:47
  • @JoseAntonioDuraOlmos IDK... It seems that the algorithmic nature of the site implies that the terms are CONSTANTLY changing. [For instance, the rate of publication based on the number of votes]. That's fine... but I think the "forever" nature of the agreement makes it non binding. I'd be interested in seeing some lawyer's opinions. I know that the music industry has dealt with this issue a lot. My understanding is that the "consideration" must be considered. In this case, there isn't any if I positively express my desire for my content to vanish. – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 18:51
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    The analogy with purchased books doesn't really work in case of electronic media as some well-known companies happen to remove legally purchased books from their customers devices. – AlexD Oct 24 '19 at 19:57
  • @JohnDee Your understanding of law seems to be based on rumors and corruption. ... Conversation: A: "Look, on this CD I have recorded some of my music, and I give it to you for free.". B: "Thanks! Can I keep it forever or do you want it back later?". A: "You can keep it". ... It's an agreement "forever", there's no "consideration", A (but not B) has the copyright, and it's perfectly legal. And if A later demands that B gives the CD back, A has no legal right to get it because of their previous agreement. – deviantfan Oct 24 '19 at 20:32
  • @AlexD Indeed they have done so, which is illegal, better not to deal with those companies. But I think the question is only about things that are legal, and the legality and/or right to such removal is the same for both physical or digital media. The practicalities of such removal, legal or not, are indeed quite different in physical and digital media. – SE infringes copyright Oct 24 '19 at 21:39
  • @deviantfan Thanks for your analysis of my understanding. I appreciate it. You're right, my understanding is - in fact - based on "rumors" and "corruption". Good point. You win the internet. – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 22:15
  • @JohnDee And you're still surprised about downvotes? Not just the question, but your whole interactions with users ask for it. – deviantfan Oct 24 '19 at 22:18
  • @deviantfan Not surprised at all buddy! Again, thanks for your input. It was very useful. – John Dee Oct 24 '19 at 22:19
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Owning the copyright to something is what gives you the right to license that thing for use to someone else. Using your question as an example, what SE is saying is that you own the copyright to that question. You have control over who you license that text to. Since SE does not open the copyright to it, they cannot stop you from doing whatever you want. You could paint it onto a billboard in Times Square, publish it as a Kindle book, or upload it to github. Go wild!

What SE is saying is that by posting here, you are also implicitly licensing it to SE under (as of now) cc by-sa 4.0. This gives SE limited rights to that content. Those limited rights are the right to edit the text in any way (which would include restoring it if you deleted it.) The limits to these rights are that they must always attach your name to it, and always make clear if your original post was edited.

So basically their position is that you can do whatever you want to the text and that they can distribute both original and edited versions of it on their site. That is not contradictory.

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