Why were so many answers defaced by replacing the text with:

(Answer not available under cc by-sa 4.0)

for example: https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/140306/7777

  • 1
    I flagged a few, hoping a mod could stop him Jan 23 '20 at 2:19
  • well the account has been suspended for 7 days, So i guess we have to wait??
    – Shadowzee
    Jan 23 '20 at 3:49
  • Surprisingly, there's no pattern...some of the recent answers are intact, and some older are defaced...I guess it has to do with the licensing policy change...but I guess Gregory can only answer (once the suspension is over). I'm a bit surprised...they seemed to appear very reasonable to me thus far. Jan 23 '20 at 5:55
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    This looks like some kind of protest, funny really as if they really wanted the answer to be less viewable, they would have been better off deleting it rather than editing the post. I'm of the belief we should rollback the edits, but will await community consensus
    – Draken
    Jan 23 '20 at 7:26
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    I also think we should roll back the edits. Also, holy frontpage spam.
    – Magisch
    Jan 23 '20 at 8:06
  • @Magisch I agree and I think it would be better to do it now, while they're still on the front page, rather than waiting for a bunch of newer or active questions to push them off and then bumping them all back onto the front page again. (FWIW, I rolled one back before I realized there were a bunch of these.)
    – BSMP
    Jan 23 '20 at 8:26
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    I'm not sure we should be the ones to do it. I don't have any interest in being named in a future lawsuit about copyright infringement by restoring that content. I realize this sounds silly, but I don't wanna go anywhere near that.
    – Magisch
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:36
  • It is indeed a protest at best. If you disagree with licensing then Gregory could've just deleted his answers, which would also remove the edit history and so on. As it it's just vandalism, and I've taken the action to undo it (although without noticing this post, but my view stands - if Gregory wants his answers down, remove them, not vandalize previously accepted posts for visibility, ruining the experience for others in the process.). Jan 23 '20 at 9:47
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    @TymoteuszPaul I would have recommended waiting for the community's consensus before rolling back the answers. It's possible the community would have gone with a different choice then what you have selected to do.
    – Draken
    Jan 23 '20 at 12:12
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    @Draken I don't disagree with that now that I know this is a matter of bigger debate. But also as it has already been done, undoing it would pollute the front page again, it is what it is now I fear. Jan 23 '20 at 12:14
  • @TymoteuszPaul Agreed, let's see what the community decides for the next steps :)
    – Draken
    Jan 23 '20 at 12:15
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    You can't really delete any answer in the sense of permanently destroying it. "Deleting" your own answer just makes it visible to less people (only people with enough rep to see deleted answers), stops new activity on it (new comments can't be added, etc.), and floats it to the bottom of the page. The content is still very much there, and un-deletable.
    – dwizum
    Jan 23 '20 at 18:38
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    Maybe dumb suggestion (IANAL), but could you roll back and add a note at the bottom in <sub> tags saying "Answer © CC by-sa 3.0"? His protest and assertion of copyright remain there, but so does the content.
    – Michael
    Jan 24 '20 at 16:34
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    Thank you for taking the time to roll back these revisions by the way @TymoteuszPaul
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Jan 26 '20 at 12:45
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    It is a protest, but it must be noted that SE is 100% in the wrong here—what they're doing is illegal. So the protest is warranted. Give an inch and they'll take a mile. Come on, we all know how horrible SE leadership is.
    – user91988
    Jan 31 '20 at 20:40

Stack Exchange changed the license in September.

That would be fine, when all posts previously written and granted rights to SE by users had stayed with their old license. But they did not. SE decided that the licence you granted them is not the license they wanted and decided that meant that you had indeed granted them a different license. Just for comparison, that is exactly what happens when you pirate a movie. You decide unilaterally that the license offered (pay for view, copying not allowed) does not suit you and instead use your own license (free to view and copy) without the consent of the other party.

Now, the real problem is not the license change per se because people agree it is for the better, but instead the fact that SE decided they could decide for us that we agreed to this. There was not even an opt-out. Not even saying "if you don't agree we will have to delete your content". Just "my way or the highway". That upset many users.

I don't have time to look it up, but if Gregory removes their answers older than September, then they actually have a point... legally, they are not available under the current license. Unlike posts written after September, Gregory never agreed to it being published under the new license.

You could argue that that should be taken to court instead of doing it manually by editing and maybe that's correct.

  • 1
    Would you say that deletion is preferable to the manual edit? The edit removes an accepted answer and leaves a message that distracts from the other answers. This feels like an intentional dilution of SE's Q&A format, done in protest.
    – MvZ
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:17
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    @TvZ This feels like an intentional dilution of SE's Q&A format, done in protest Are you suggesting that it's OK when SE silently and apparently illegally re-licenses user content, but if the user then leaves a note of this, the user should be silenced as well? The quality of SE suffers from this, but the responsibility, cause and potential solution is on SE's side.
    – ig-dev
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:22
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    @ig-dev Not at all. There is no excuse for SE's re-licensing and SE is worse off for it. To rephrase my question: Does the quality of the question and answers (and the value thus provided to other users) suffer more when Gregory deletes his answers outright, or when he edits as he did?
    – MvZ
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:29
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    Just pointing out that this is not just a question of readability, but of ethics. @TymoteuzPaul seems to be convinced it's the right thing to roll back the edits using content that he has no license for, since that's what he is doing right now.
    – ig-dev
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:35
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    @ig-dev if you don't want your answer posted, use the delete button, that's what it's there for. Defacing an accepted answer is not removing your work, it's still fully available via the edits and serves only to try to "spread the message" by the means gained through the answers. Jan 23 '20 at 9:43
  • @TymoteuszPaul An observation: The edits may be premature and may complicate matters: They could constitute sharing/redistributing under a compatible license, which was allowed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.
    – MvZ
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:46
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    @TymoteuszPaul You can't author content that you have no license for - you are the one posting it via copy and paste. Whether you consider this "vandalism" and want the user to use the "delete button", or not. The latter is your personal opinion and doesn't grant you a right over the content
    – ig-dev
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:46
  • @TvZ Not true at all, even if I did copy-paste instead of pressing "rollback", it wouldn't stand as sharding/redistribution, at least no more than Gregory's original defacing edit (which would also redistribute the edited-out content, if that's the way you want to look at it). You don't want your stuff, you delete it, it's fairly simple like htat. Jan 23 '20 at 9:49
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    @ig-dev We have the tools to rollback edits exactly for that, removal of vandalism, so I am not sure where your confusion comes from. Jan 23 '20 at 9:49
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    @ig-dev If you consider that SE acted illegally, act on that. There are many ways, starting with getting a written legal opinion from a lawyer and posting it here. Or if that's not enough, taking SE to court. Right now you are skipping quite a few steps and ruling "guilty" without needing a court, jury or even legal knowledge. Also insulting people who may disagree with your "legal expertise" along the way apparently. Jan 23 '20 at 9:55
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    I'm not interested in "taking SE to court". You are aware now of the circumstances and can act on your own conscience. That's all I have to say. Good luck! @TymoteuszPaul
    – ig-dev
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:56
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    @ig-dev So you consider that SE does something illegal and wrong, but only enough to insult people who disagree, calling the minions, but not to actually take any meaningful action? Alright then, thanks for the "morality lesson", I guess. Jan 23 '20 at 9:58
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    @TymoteuszPaul Your argument and justification for your action are all based on the belief that Gregory could have deleted their post, but this is false -- an accepted answer cannot be deleted. The correct course of action would be to request deletion by a moderator, and I think that in the time between flagging it and action being taken, it's completely within a user's rights to remove the content as best they can -- by editing it away.
    – Schism
    Jan 25 '20 at 4:53
  • @Schism By your token, anyone from now on who is waiting for the moderator team to remove their content is perfectly in their right to pollute the front page by defacing possibly dozens of answers, making it unusable for everyone? That's just plain nonsense, and let's not pretend that this was just a place holder for Gregory and not a protest against alledgedly illegal change. Jan 25 '20 at 8:19
  • 2
    "My way or the highway" would be more of an option than what Stack Overflow, Inc. gave its users in this change.
    – WBT
    Jan 30 '20 at 19:06

TL;DR Let's, for once, prioritise individual contributors over the collective.

Our interests, as a community, are different from the direction SE is taking. It's just the way things are going in the last few months. SE Corp's interest is to protect the content. It stays on their site and google results. Individuals come and go. SE gets contributions for free, and that's fine, because community feedback was taken into account, up until recently. SE can and will "burn" long-standing members in order to pave their new path.

For some reason I still use facebook. Sometimes, I get a "disturbing" picture in my feed that I have to click to reveal. To me, Gregory's action is similar to that. The answer is there if you want it, beware of the licensing issue.

At the same time it's raising awareness of this issue. You can't just relicense stuff. That's not how it works.

It's easy to say "two wrongs don't make a right", and I would agree with that if it weren't for the power imbalance between SE Corp. and regular contributors. You're already getting our content for free, which we're happy to provide.

Similarly, someone mentioned this vandalism ruins the experience of others on the site. I agree with that. We should also consider the experience of strong contributors, like Gregory, who writes insightful posts we enjoy, and SE decided - unilaterally - to re-license.

SE is turning strongly corporate, abandoning its grassroots base, since it doesn't really need it anymore; it has enough momentum, and Google presence, to keep going. That's fine. They're a company, they're in it for money, and it makes sense they would do this at some point. But again, you can't change the license without agreement.

Please don't penalise Gregory for SE's nonesense. If you do we might lose him and other valuable contributors.

Gregory should not delete his answers. Stack Exchange has a reputation system central to the way it works. Experienced users may not realise this, but for new contributors it's a big deal. Deleting an answer removes the internet points. So what, I hear you ask, who cares about Internet points? Contributors do. Yes, they're meaningless. I can't go to the bank and put 10k rep as collateral. But I earned them, goddamnit, and the only way you can take them away is from my cold, dead hands.

I'm joking of course, exaggerating a bit for comedic effect. But you get the point. Plus, earning rep points is a "gateway drug" to a SE community. So, it's important.

  • 4
    "At the same time it's raising awareness of this issue. You can't just relicense stuff. That's not how it works." That needs a citation, copyright law, and licensing of user-provided content is extremely nuanced and complicated, and while I agree that morally they may be in the wrong, without a legal opinion in hand I wouldn't jump to conclusion that they've breached the law. Jan 23 '20 at 10:48
  • @TymoteuszPaul True. I only have a layman's understanding of content licensing.
    – rath
    Jan 23 '20 at 10:49
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    @TymoteuszPaul I never claimed to be a legal expert. What I write is always my personal opinion. I encourage people to do their research, just like I do mine. I don't care to provide references frankly, the licensing issue is well-known, and also linked in the other answer.
    – rath
    Jan 23 '20 at 11:10
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    Deleting an answer removes the internet points. In his case, that's untrue. You keep any reputation from answers who have been visible for more then 60 days at the time of deletion and who score +3 or higher.
    – Magisch
    Jan 23 '20 at 12:41
  • @Magisch I was not aware, thank you for that
    – rath
    Jan 23 '20 at 13:49
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    I tend to agree, if the chap doesn't like changes in licence he never agreed to then we shouldn't get involved, it's between SE and him
    – Kilisi Mod
    Jan 26 '20 at 9:25

I sympathize with the point of view regarding the Creative Commons licensing change, but legal issues are not the responsibility of the volunteer moderator team.

Please take issues like this up with the Stack Exchange company instead, as others have, and if you do have the legal right to remove your content from the network, they can do it for you.


I've reviewed the edit logs Gregory's top 10 answers by votes and it clearly appears that he no longer wishes for his answers to be available under the current license regardless of internet points. He has made every effort to delete his answers as is permissible to him as a user by actually deleting the answer; he could not delete accepted answers and simply removed them with the cited statement above.

As the information is his creation and subject to the copyrights that he agrees to, I do not understand why the moderation team is working to undo the deletions and edits. This very much appears to be an infringement upon Gregory's copyright and I do not concur with the rollbacks that have occurred given that the community does not appear to have a consensus on the matter.


Any person who rollbacks such edit is a partner in copyright infringement with Stack Exchange.

Before rolling back such an edit make sure you know the support that SE is willing to give you in the unlikely event that you get sued by the original poster for copyright infringement. Same applies to undeletion of answers or questions.

Some may disagree, of course. But why take risks for an organization unless such organization has ensured that it would support you in such an event?

Update: I made a test. I added a license statement to my oldest answer which was posted before Sept 5 2019, when SE changed to CC-BY-SA 4.0. The license statement was rolled back by a moderator with the following edit message:

Please leave the license stuff off. If your not happy about that, please use the contact us link at the bottom of the page as this issue is above the site mod's pay grade.

I agree entirely about "this issue is above the site mod's pay grade". Though I wonder why they act on it if it is indeed above such pay grade. It seems it is above but only in one direction.

The moderators are still responsible for their actions though. "SE told me to do it" is no valid excuse for copyright infringement.

  • 1
    I'm not sure how an edit, much less a rollback, could be considered legally significant in any way. Editing does not destroy or change content. It doesn't even really hide it, it just moves it to a different place that requires a single click to get access to. Rolling back an edit just changes the number of clicks you need to get to the other version of the content.
    – dwizum
    Jan 27 '20 at 13:46
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    @dwizum An edit to remove a license statement means you are distributing a modified work without having a license to distribute such modified work. CC-BY-SA is quite explicit about retaining license statements. Rollbacks are a weaker case indeed since the text displayed after the rollback is entirely by the original author. Whether a tribunal would consider it significant it is still morally wrong to aid an organization such as SE in performing copyright infringement. Jan 27 '20 at 14:02
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    Furthermore it can be argued that a CC-BY-SA statement added to a post originally made before Sept 5 2019 is preserving the original content since such statement was there (at the botton of the page) back then. Jan 27 '20 at 14:04
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    An edit to remove a license statement I think we're talking about different things. I'm talking about editing the content of a single question or answer. You can't "remove" anything in an edit, you can only change the number of clicks it takes to see different versions of the content. That was my point.
    – dwizum
    Jan 27 '20 at 14:05
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    @dwizum My point is that in an edit causes distribution of a modification of the work. And as such must abide to the license which allows distribution of such modification. In CC-BY-SA 3.0 this requires keeping license statements in the modified work (the edited message). Jan 27 '20 at 14:08
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    I think we're just talking in circles at this point. I was trying to make it clear that "edits" to content on SE are not like edits to other types of content elsewhere in the universe, because SE keeps a full edit history. So you're not even really editing in the sense of changing anything, you're really just adding a different version of the original content which is still fully available. If I make a painting, and then you wipe paint off my canvas, you've edited my painting. It's changed for good. If I post an answer, and you edit it, you're just contributing a different version.
    – dwizum
    Jan 27 '20 at 14:20
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    @dwizum Following your painting example. If you take a photo of my painting, modify the photo and then publish such modified photo you are distributing a modified work. Do you have a license to distribute such modified work? The fact that the original painting is intact and just a few clicks away is not relevant to that question about having a license to distribute a modified work. Jan 27 '20 at 14:53

If I were to take a guess, my assumption would be along the same lines as the answer above https://workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/a/6494/113825.

It's likely that Gregory wanted to delete his answers, however was unable to as they are "accepted".

Also, I believe there is a limit to how many questions you can delete per day and maybe he hit that limit.

It's possible that Gregory contacted the CM team to ask that his content be deleted, but they were not accommodating.

It is hard to tell.


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