The community is going to delete yet another useful programming question, and I want to save and publish its content. I wonder, how the deletion of content affects attribution rules:

  1. Visually indicate that the content is from Stack Overflow, Meta Stack Overflow, Server Fault, or Super User in some way. It doesn’t have to be obnoxious; a discreet text blurb is fine. 2. Hyperlink directly to the original question on the source site (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/questions/12345) 3. Show the author names for every question and answer 4. Hyperlink each author name directly back to their user profile page on the source site (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/users/12345/username)

However, deleting content arises some questions about necessity and the way the rules are applied:

  • Stack Overflow community explicitly stated that it doesn't want the content to belong to the site. Why should I attribute it to the site then (rule 1)?
  • If I hyperlink to the original question (rule 2), then a lot of users who follow the link, won't see anything but 404-like error (since they don't have 10k+ rep), and will report broken links, and just get confused. How do I handle this? Perhaps, I shouldn't link there at all?
  • It may be offensive to state that an author's content was deleted. Everyone thinks that moderation on Stack Overflow is sane, and deletion of content usually means that the user posted incorrect answer (and deleted it himself), spam or flame. It could be shameful for people to be listed as authors of deleted content. So, should I follow the rule 3?
  • Hyperlinking to profiles of the authors (rule 4) leads to more confusion, since it looks like lies: I claim that they answered (or asked) the question, while their profiles don't support this claim.

So, I have doubts that I can apply any of the attribution rules for deleted content. How do I copy it then--and can I?

  • 1
    +1 You have some valid points. Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 5:21
  • 1
    From a lawyer's point of view, you would have to do it even though it doesn't make any sense, so you can legally preserve the work. However, Jeff may make an exception for deleted question, so we'll just have to see. Warning: IANAL and TINLA
    – waiwai933
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 5:30
  • @waiwai, the question is more about moral issues than about legal ones, actually.
    – P Shved
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 5:33

2 Answers 2


The easiest way, if possible: Just ask the author. It's their work, after all, and they licensed it to Stack Overflow in the first place. They can re-license it to you in whatever way they want.

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    Per this question on Open Source, this is not necessary. If you can view the post, you are granted a license to use it. You do not need to ask the author to use their work, as long as you otherwise abide by the requirements of CC BY-SA. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:39
  • I never said it's necessary. But if you're worried about not being able to abide by the requirements (because the attribution link would 404), like the OP is in this case, and you get an explicit permission from the author to use their content, then that's an easy way to stop worrying.
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:44

Both legally and morally, it isn't our place to say "we don't want this post so go ahead and copy it." The original author grants us a license to use the information under the terms of cc-wiki. If we reject that content, the content doesn't fall into the public domain nor does that allow us to create a new license agreement (the terms of "attribution required" still apply).

The only way to fulfill the terms of that agreement is to either contact the author or link to other sources that display the content through the cc-wiki agreement.

  • So deleting a post makes usage policy even more strict: the deleted content doesn't even have a verifiable confirmation that it's under CC-wiki (and an only way to get it is contacting the authors)? Am I correct in this understanding?
    – P Shved
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 15:40
  • @Pavel: the sane thing to do here would seem to be copying the content before it is deleted...
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 16:39
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    @Shog9, it isn't much different from copying after it was deleted. The required attribution becomes invalid at the point of deletion, and there's no way to distinguish a malicious attempt to fake it from a legitimate copying of a deleted content.
    – P Shved
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 16:47
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    @Pavel Shved: It's more of an interesting legal curiosity rather than anything I would worry about in practice. Technically speaking only, if you link to inaccessible or non-existent content, I would think that you haven't fulfilled the terms of attribution. But even the judgment of law would likely allow for your good-faith effort at fulfilling the terms of the license. And that's why we provide data dumps; to make sure content is not easily lost to the big bit bucket in the sky. Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 16:58
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    Based on this question on Open Source, this is wrong. Anyone who can view deleted content receives a license. Deletion is not a rejection of the content if it's still visible to anyone. In addition, CC only requires you to include a URL if one exists. URLs to deleted content do exist, since URLs can be to content behind a paywall or hidden from people without appropriate permission. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:29
  • @ThomasOwens You're not saying anything new. The fact that we do not chose to use/display this content openly does not change the terms of the original license (i.e. deletion does not mean folks are now free use the content without fulfilling the terms of CC reuse). That's all this post says. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:34
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    "The only way to fulfill the terms of that agreement is to either contact the author or link to other sources that display the content through the cc-wiki agreement." -- That's wrong. If you are a mod or 10k user, you have access to the deleted content and access to the URL. You do not need to contact the author or link to another source in order to use the content. You can use the content on Stack Exchange (and optionally link to it through the URL to the deleted content). Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:35

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