11

According to how I understand the fineprint under this link and the rules of the web site, when I delete my account the rights of my answers will belong to the site. So if anyone, including me, ever decides to use these codes, they would technically be required to mention some stackexchange. This is not what I want. So I am wondering what my options are. Some thoughts:

  1. I could keep my account and edit my answers to become useless. This may work but is absolutely not what I want. The users of this site deserve better.
  2. I could just ignore these rules. But then I expose myself to legal trouble.

None of these options seem to be acceptable to me. Is there a way to make sure that anyone, including me, can use these codes without mentioning stackexchange?

  • 13
    Also you could seriously consider option 3: not quitting, otherwise users will have to rely on my tikz answers. – David Carlisle Aug 2 at 15:59
  • 1
    @DavidCarlisle Too much has happened, so this option is ruled out. I really really really enjoyed interacting with you and most of the other chatters! See ya! – user121799 Aug 2 at 16:10
17

I think the site is clear that you retain copyright, so as Joseph has already said, you are free to do anything with your own codes, including using them or making them available to others at a different location under a different (or same) licence.

It's worth noting that option 1 is not really available: even if you edit or delete the text anyone with a moderate rep can see the post history and access the original post. Anyone with no rep at all can access it if it's been picked up by wayback machine or similar archives. I don't think option 2 is really applicable as the licence rules place no constraints on you only on others.

  • The revision history is publicly available, no rep or internet archive required. – Keelan Aug 10 at 10:19
  • @Keelan ah still my comments would apply if the post was deleted, not just edited, then it isn't viewable to low rep users or people without an account. – David Carlisle Aug 11 at 10:08
  • Ah yes, definitely. Though deletion would normally be reverted by moderators. Anyway I gave my +1; I just wanted to clarify this point. – Keelan Aug 11 at 10:14
16

The site license says that when you post code, the material is available to others under the CC-SA conditions. That means that for example you can't simply 'pull' all of the content: important so that the material remains available for others, and particularly reflects the fact that as others can edit, it's hard to say content is '100% yours'.

However, you retain copyright on material you post that you wrote. In particular, with code, provided it's 100% material you wrote, you remain free to use it under an alternate license. That's for example how companies offer GPL and commercial license versions of code: the copyright holder is not restricted by the license, it's other people who are.

Conclusion: you are free to use your code how you like. It's everyone else who has to respect the CC-SA (unless you've given them explicit permission otherwise: for example, I view my contributions as 'public domain' so make my code available as CC0). So you can use in closed source, re-license as MIT, LPPL, GPL, ... or whatever.


As I say, you are copyright owner. You could therefore re-post your material elsewhere on a site you control. For example, I have various postings to my own blog, where I set the rules and which is explicitly CC0 (see https://www.texdev.net/about/). If you do that now, you'd be be able to show from timestamps that the material was posted before any account removal here.


To be clear on the copyright part, the terms say

All materials displayed or performed on the public Network, including but not limited to text, graphics, logos, tools, photographs, images, illustrations, software or source code, audio and video, and animations (collectively “Network Content”) (other than Network Content posted by individual “Subscriber Content”) are the property of Stack Overflow and/or third parties and are protected by United States and international copyright laws (“Stack Overflow Content”).

They then go on to describe Subscriber Content:

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):

importantly saying non-exclusive, which can only reasonably be interpreted as the author retaining copyright.

  • Well, how can I prove that it was me who wrote the code? After deleting my account the author will be user 121799, everyone could claim to be that author (which is fine), and everyone could give me headache for using the posts of user 121799. To be clear: I wish to have a solution in which no company, nor any individual, can claim ownership of these codes. – user121799 Aug 2 at 8:01
  • @marmot I don't know the full details, but I presume that things like IP logs are retained at the 'back end' even if an account is removed. Thus one could, if legally challenged, purse this information. However, even for a registered account, the typical situation is things are taken on trust: one can register with any name, after all. It's only when someone challenges copyright/license/whatever that such things ever get checked. (Usual proviso that I'm no legal expert!) – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 8:24
  • @marmot As an aside, StackOverflow have been looking at the fact that CC-SA is not great for code anyway: it was always intended for covering 'descriptive content. As such, I think more-or-less anyone reusing their own code from the site is likely to pick a more appropriate license. – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 8:25
  • @marmot I think you have to remember that if you write a package or whatever, there is no link to the site in the sense there has to be trust. Just because I write my packages with my full name, and my user name here is my full name, doesn't in and of itself demonstrate that the two are the same person. – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 8:27
  • The IP logs are available to the company, not to the public. If they want to claim they own the codes, there is not much one can do. That scares me. – user121799 Aug 2 at 8:28
  • @marmot Well the license is clear: everything is CC-SA, so StackOverflow is not about to claim everything. At a business level, the network needs users to provide content so I think it would be business suicide to claim ownership beyond the license conditions. Presumably such actions would lead to legal moves by concerned authors, and that leads on to the potential to subpoena the records. If you think they are about to such moves, then having an account or not makes little difference: the owners of the database could just remove you (or me or whoever). – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 8:32
  • Unfortunately, trust is the thing which I no longer have. – user121799 Aug 2 at 8:34
  • @marmot If you don't trust that StackOverflow will act in line with their own conditions, there is no much we here can do. Or perhaps you mean specific individuals in the 'local' community, rather than the network (staff)? Anyone wanting to cause real legal trouble would need deep pockets, as any of these license things are not cheap or simple to resolve if they go to court. – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 8:46
  • I suppose you could contact the staff, outline the issue, and ask for an explicit statement from them recognising your ownership of the posts from your account. You'll then have something in 'writing' (at least by email). – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 9:46
  • I'm curious to know what license CC-BY-SA is, in a court. According to this page, I would be able to tell what CC-BY-SA 1.0, CC-BY-SA 2.0, CC-BY-SA 2.5, CC-BY-SA 3.0 and CC-BY-SA 4.0 are, but CC-BY-SA? – frougon Aug 2 at 13:36
  • @frougon As it says in the page footer on every page, CC-BY-SA 3.0. – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 13:40
  • @JosephWright I don't see the license version number in the legal terms. IANAL, but for me, this is what matters in court. The terms (your link) are what you are supposed to agree with when subscribing, aren't they? – frougon Aug 2 at 13:44
  • @frougon Well, like you say, neither of us are lawyers so it's moot, but I'd imagine that the presence of an explicit link on the bottom of each page (with a version number) would be considered by any reasonable court. – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 14:12
5

Do not do option one. The code will not be destroyed, but there are no good automated systems to repair the damage. This means SE employees, site moderators, and high rep users will have to do a lot of work to repair the vandalism.

As for legal trouble, I don't think you need to worry. In countries in which there is a presumption of innocence, in order to get into legal trouble someone would have to prove that you don't own the code and you wouldn't have to prove that you owned the code. It would be extremely difficult for a 3rd party to fabricate ownership. If SE wanted to claim ownership, they would have to falsify their logs and find an employee that was willing to perjure themselves and say they wrote the code. To blow them out of the water all you would have to do is prove ownership of a single one of your answers (e.g., the code was originally in one of your packages or you used it in an archived document). Given that the code is already open source, the potential benefits to SE seem not worth potential criminal liability. If you want slightly better protection, keep your account. Just re-register it to an email you don't use and make all your questions and answers CW so you don't accumulate reputation. This still doesn't fully protect you against SE trying to steal you identity as they can still delete your account and fabricate the logs.

Following on that, deleting your account does not really accomplish anything. Your questions and answers will still exist. They can still be voted on and edited. It makes it more difficult for future users to find your great answers since there is no user page from which to branch out. As above, I suggest you re-register the account to some email you don't use frequently (or just filter emails from SE), change your username to user121799 and remove your profile.

  • 2
    Why do you put so much weight on the email address? I never get mails from SE. – Ulrike Fischer Aug 2 at 16:07
  • @UlrikeFischer I guess the news letter plus mod messages – Joseph Wright Aug 2 at 16:42
  • @UlrikeFischer I don't, but that is the only thing that I can think of that deleting an account really does. – StrongBad Aug 2 at 17:24
  • @StrongBad Thanks for the kind words! For me deleting the account has some symbolic value, like "ending this chapter". Even though in this case this decision has been triggered by some events that were IMHO unnecessary, in general some may just decide to leave because they start to get bored, find something else more interesting, and so on. The arguably cleanest way is to set a cut at that point. The fact that one cannot search for the posts of a deleted user is something that might be blamed on those who run the site, and not so much on those who want to leave. – user121799 Aug 7 at 21:43
3

First of all it should be noted that since you are the author of your codes, you will retain the full copyright under any normal jurisdiction (except maybe Cuba or North Korea). At this point it is completely irrelevant what the TeX.SX FAQ or whatever says, because they are not above the law. This is also a common misconception and people think it is necessary to put lines like

% Copyright (c) 2019 John Doe

in their files. This is in fact superfluous because you own the implicit copyright to any file you have authored. The same applies to your TeX.SX posts. Whether you have an account on this site does not matter. Your are the author of the codes, hence you have the full copyright.


The only exception is if you have forfeited your copyright as it is common in big open source project by means of a Contributor License Agreement (CLA). The purpose of a CLA is that an author transfers the copyright of their contribution to the project to prevent patent trolling, i.e. a contributor submits a contribution and after it is accepted in to the project the contributor files a patent for that contribution and sues the project for infringement.

  • As the site is more toward 'publishing than 'code repo', I'd imagine that a Copyright Transfer is more likely to be how any change in copyright holding would be managed. However, functionally we are talking the same thing: reassigning copyright. And as far as I can see, that is not happening. – Joseph Wright Aug 5 at 14:33
  • @JosephWright You also can't transfer copyright by checking a box online, because such a forfeiture always requires a signature. – Henri Menke Aug 13 at 21:33
  • You are almost certainly correct, but as with all legal stuff, this gets horribly complicated when you start worrying about different jurisdictions! – Joseph Wright Aug 13 at 21:46

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