Hans Passant quotes from the CC-Wiki license:

I think there's a problem here. The full text of the Creative Commons License under which SOIS publishes your answer has this clause in section 7b, Termination:

Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright in the Work). Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless terminated as stated above.

I however don't have a clue what the provided part of the sentence tries to say.

Can somebody translate this into plain english: Does this clause allow people to withdraw the content they licensed to SO at a whim? Making this bullshit (from this user) actually - valid?

My interpretation is that this is not the case, and that "stop distributing the Work" means distributing it elsewhere. In my understanding, the license granted to SO is for all eternity, and not unilaterally revocable. I have no idea whether this is correct, though.

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    Nice to know a 1-day suspension did absolutely nothing to restore his sanity Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:32
  • @Michael I believe they have to have a protocol and they have to follow it. 1 day then proceeding onwards.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:35
  • @drachenstern I'm not criticizing the mods for suspending him for a day, I'm criticizing "I quit" for not taking that day to chill out. I can understand somebody getting angry and vandalizing their own posts before they've thought it through, but if they're still doing it a day later then in my opinion they're a little unbalanced Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:37
  • @Michael ~ Ahh, I agree.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:53
  • @Michael This is exactly what I mean. I removed my content and I'm attacked and called names. Wow, how professional.
    – Mike Bethany
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:57
  • 1
    @Mike I'm not calling you names, I'm questioning your rationality; why would you keep at it after you were suspended for a day and the license policy was explicitly explained to you? If you suddenly hate SO, just walk away... Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:59
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    @Michael Saying, "...restore his sanity." is an ad hominem attack, an attack against my character. No licences was EVER explained to me until I was suspended the second time and after being called a twit. Why do you want my content so badly? Shouldn't it be my right to remove it? If I'm so clearly unbalanced then my content should be removed. No means no, it's a simple as that. If a woman says yes to sex then later says no is it within your rights to still have sex with her?
    – Mike Bethany
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:04
  • @Mike I'm absolutely attacking your character, I don't think that was ever in question. It's ridiculous to suddenly try to destroy all your posts just because you dislike the site; just stop using it. I was under the impression the license was explained to you when you were suspended the first time -- if not, that was the mod's mistake, he should have sent you a message about it Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:06
  • @MikeBethany ~ By whom and where were you called a "twit"? Context please!
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:17
  • I asked some people; it looks like nobody ever contacted @Mike about the licensing terms, so I take back the part about him being irrational; I thought he was messaged the first time about it and decided to just keep destroying posts anyway. It still wasn't a great idea, but oh well Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:35
  • Related: There needs to be a way to (...) disassociate your account from said content, especially tvanfosson's quote from the license: In addition to the right of licensors to request removal of their name from the work when used in a derivative or collective they don't like [...] I guess the original post is not a "derivative", but might very well be a "collective" one no longer likes? (New ideas at that other question, I guess?)
    – Arjan
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 11:17

3 Answers 3


This is covered by the Creative Commons FAQ under the question "What if I change my mind?":

You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation...

The clause that makes this explicitly clear is the part after the section you highlighted for emphasis, as removing already-released copies of the work would serve as an attempt to withdraw the License, which is not allowed.

So no, there's no obligation to allow a user to go around vandalizing their own posts, since they cannot "take back" their contribution. As Jeff points out, the license terms don't prevent the user from potentially coming to a mutual removal agreement with the site, but the more destructively the user acts, the less cooperative the team is likely to be.

  • 1
    They can, however, request that their content be anonymised, if not doing so would otherwise violate their personal rights (things like, be very embarassing or worse). This actually is not a part of the licence but of copyright law (in many countries, anyway). In the EU except UK, this is called “moral rights” and very strongly protected.
    – mirabilos
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 18:08

provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License

Is the key phrase. They can change the license for any future distribution, but any distribution made prior to such a change is considered to be released under this license.

So in other words, once you post it on SO, you can't remove it. You'll notice all edit history is permitted to be reviewed.

Now, had someone stolen proprietary code and released it (in itself a generally considered a criminal act) then it would be fair to have a staff member remove it. Such a move would be thoroughly documented, so that would be fair.

But what that user is doing is bunk.

Stealing from Tim's answer and using this to clarify just a little bit:

Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable.

  • 17
    however, if you ask in a civil manner and we agree that the removal is a good thing, then we will generally remove it as a courtesy. If you are a jerk.. not so much. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:36
  • @Jeff ~ I like that. :D
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:37
  • I believe (IANAL), by definition, no open source licence of any kind is revocable (except in the case of licence violation by a licensee, in which case only the violator is affected). If the author has the power to withdraw the licence willy-nilly, it's not open source. :-) Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:41
  • @Jeff Would you please remove my content and ask your moderators to stop calling me names like children? Thank you very much.
    – Mike Bethany
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 3:58
  • 3
    Completely agree. I mean, you wouldn't want to start using some open source piece of software only to discover a few months later(after it's deeply implemented in your program) that they somehow made a retroactive license change makes your program now illegal
    – Earlz
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:38

Fringe cases, ask a lawyer. I have no idea if the CC license is applicable if a user did not knowingly agree to that. But US copyright law is quite crude anyway, (yet it might take precedence).

I'm sure it's not honored here, but European copyright law has more specific provisions for such cases. Substitutionally in Germany the creators rights are meticulously separated from commercial/utilization/licensing rights, with the former given significant precedence. Specifically § 41 UrhG and § 42 UrhG are designed to manage revokal disputes.

Now 41 would only be applicable if the servers are really really really slow. If it takes e.g. two years to publish a posting, then that's an opportunity to take back the contribution.
More relevant is § 42 here, in that it allows a creator to revoke a license if it starts to contradict his view/opinion in a foundational way. Meaning that if you for example wrote an appraisal of chocolate milk, but later develop an allergy, you should be entitled to have an opinion piece removed if it has become subjectively slanderous to you.

So to answer the original question: not at a whim, but the license could be revoked under some conditions. Assumingly you don't even need copyright law for that; libel suits usually seal the fate for newspaper articles. -- But again, narrow conditions that are difficult to match for technical discussions as long as they stay technical. There's no generic answer. And as for the cited example, the text appears to be some running joke.

  • Interesting. Would be interesting to know whether any precedents have been made in court based on the CC-Wiki license... The text that user posted is (I think) a standard placeholder used to notify providers of offending web sites, so it has some use in other contexts.
    – Pekka
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 11:50

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