I asked a question here a year ago and this was removed. Who owns the rights to the question, and can it be republished?

On what grounds could it have been removed?


3 Answers 3


This seems to be a mix of question about law and a meta-question about this site, but I'll treat it as an on-topic question about law. The author of a question, or answer, owns the copyright to their contributions, and they can re-publish to their heart's content. Any user who posts here grants a license to SE and other users to use content posted here, so I don't have to ask you permission to quote you. As part of the permission granted by SE to use this website, you have agreed to "follow the rules" set by SE. There are many rules, some spelled out more clearly that others. For example, if you post a question, you indirectly agreed that your content can be upvoted or down-voted. Certain content can be "closed" and deleted, when the content is deemed to violate the rules in particular ways (is spam, porn, abuse, or judged to be poor-quality). Judgment (on different matters) can be rendered by community managers, moderators, or other users. The agreement is here, see especially here. If we take the post that you linked to, it is quite possible that it was deleted because it is not a general legal question, in violation of the acceptable use policy.

If you want a historical analysis of your particular case, it should be asked on Law Meta.

  • 28
    Note: A post does not need to violate a policy in order to be legitimately removed by SE. SE is not granting the user a right to have their content distributed/published by SE. SE can arbitrarily choose to not distribute/publish whatever user-contributed content they see fit, as long as SE is complying with the license(s) which were granted to SE at the time the content was contributed by the user for the user-contributed content which SE does distribute/publish.
    – Makyen
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 7:48

The Network Terms say:

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 4.0), 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

This means that the original poster retains the copyright, and can post the content elsewhere, or use it as the basis of a derivative work, but anyone else can use or modify the content from the version posted provided that proper credit is given, and the content is released under the same license.

So the poster "owns" the content, but SE and anyone else has permission to use it, reproduce it, and create modifier copies, subject to the license.

As to that particular question, I can't see it on SE so I can't see any record of why it may have been removed. It does look to me like a request for specific legal advice, which is off-topic on the Law.se site.


Who owns the rights to the question and can it be republished?

The question is: which rights are you talking about?

If you are talking about copyrights, then you "own" the copyrights. (I really dislike talking about rights, especially copyrights in terms of "ownership" as if they were a piece of property like a hammer that you loan your neighbor.)

However, when you signed up to the site, you were presented with the Terms of Service, and you confirmed that you have read and fully understood them. And in these Terms of Service, you give Stack Exchange, Inc. (or in your case more likely Stack Overflow, Ltd.) a worldwide, non-exclusive, non-revocable, perpetual license to use your contributions under the terms of the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

This means that Stack Overflow is allowed to publish your content, is allowed to edit it, combine it with other content, as long as they themselves abide by the terms of the CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Most importantly, they are also allowed, in fact, even forced, to offer those same license terms to anybody else who wants to use your content.

Note, however, that Stack Overflow is allowed to publish your content. There is nothing that requires them to.

On what grounds could it have been removed?

Any grounds whatsoever. Stack Overflow is a private company, not the government, and this is their own private website. They can publish or not publish, delete or not delete from their own website anything they want.

  • 2
    copyright is property very much like a hammer. It may be sold, rented, given away, or left by will. It may be separated into parts and the parts sold separately to different buyers. The US copyright law explicitly says a copyright is property. There is good reason that such rights are classed under 'Intellectual Property". It is not physical property, but neither is a bank account. Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 15:38
  • There is a fundamental difference between creative works and a hammer or a bank account, though, and that is that they can be copied infinitely many times at zero cost without losing any of their qualities. (At least the kinds of works that we are concerned with in this question.) Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 15:56
  • 5
    I can create a painting, and itr will be a creative work, and my property, and it can be copied. I can create a similar work of digital art, and it can be copied exactly. A hammer can be copied by a molding process. Indeed it is reproduced and sold en mass. A bank account now consists of bits in an computer, and can be copied just as any other digital content. Also a hammer was a creative work when it was first designed. There are differences between real property, physical personal property, and intangible property, but they are all forms of property. Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 16:04
  • @DavidSiegel copying via "copy and paste" is substantively different from copying via "building a bunch of big machines, hiring trained operators, buying inventory, running the machine, shipping the product to warehouses, etc."
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 16:25
  • 4
    @ RonJohn Yes it is. But I don't see that difference as affecting whether something is or is not property. And a copyright is not the bits onb the disk or the words on the page, it is the power of control. Just as say a stock option is property, but has no physical form. But it can be sold and otherwise treated as property. In fact a copyright, unlike the copyrighted work, cannot be copied. Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 16:34

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