I take it all back!
November 26, 2004 9:37 PM   Subscribe

If I post a message to a public internets forum, and then decide I would like to retract my statement, is the site owner/admin under any obligation to do so? Suppose there were no Terms of Service, and user editing/deleting is not supported. What about archived threads?
posted by Jack Karaoke to Law & Government (10 answers total)
posted by adampsyche at 10:07 PM on November 26, 2004

In other words, it's (the web pages) their property, and if there was no formal agreement, then they can assumedly do with it what they choose.
posted by adampsyche at 10:09 PM on November 26, 2004

If you put it out there, assume you can't take it back.

If more people realized this, the civility level online might increase geometrically.

Or not.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:28 PM on November 26, 2004

Morally? Legally?

Morally, I'd argue that you've got no such right. As public forum, pulling this on a message board is morally equivalent to making a speech and then whinging when the newspaper quotes from it.

Legally, I'd be very curious to here whether this has ever received a definitive ruling from the courts. As your creation, your post is automatically copyrighted to yourself. Presumably the site owner isn't liable for making it available, since there's a fairly clear implicit premission being granted when you hit the 'Post' button. But is the owner required to remove it, later, on demand? I don't think he should be; under present copyright law I have the creeping fear that, perhaps, he is.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:07 PM on November 26, 2004

If I had a guest book at my restaurant, which would be quite public or at least as public as an Internet server, do you have any legal rights to later retract what you wrote down on there? I do not believe so, as I own the paper, the ink.

Now what if you are say Dr. Rice, and you said something along the lines of "I knew the war in Iraq was wrong, I did it for oil," and newspapers got ahold of it, would you still legally own it? No, the Supreme Court ruled on that with the Pentagon Papers. I'm no law expert so that situation might, might have been different but it was basically the government claiming they owned the rights to the papers (I believe they also used national security as a reason too).
posted by geoff. at 11:13 PM on November 26, 2004

At evolt.org, our mailing list archives are public. Once in a while, somebody will send us an email saying "oooh... I just found the post I sent about critiquing a web site design is visible to the public. I don't want my client to find it through Google. Can you please remove the post?"

If the message is from the original poster, we will remove it as we think they hold the copyright to their posts.

But it strikes me as damn silly that you'd post to a public forum, knowing fully well that it's out there visible to everyone, and want to retract it later. Be careful with what you say!

(Once in a while, we get messages from other people saying that someone is disparaging them on the list and could we please remove that post. We always refuse.)
posted by madman at 11:42 PM on November 26, 2004

Response by poster: To clarify: I don't feel the site owner should have any responsibility, but that comes from a sense of pragmatism, not legal acumen. I'm curious as to what legal precedent or logic may be involved.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:55 AM on November 27, 2004

If there are no terms of service at all, you may not have waived your copyright on the text you produced. But just try hiring a lawyer to make him take it down!

Most TOS' make it quite clear that whatever you do on the site becomes the property of the site admin/owner.

On the other hand, I've found that most reputable mods/admins will bend over backwards to accomodate their users' requests as long as they're not unreasonable or overly onerous.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:02 AM on November 27, 2004

I got an e-mail a while ago from a guy asking me to ask Google to delete one of my posts archived in Google Groups from 8 or 9 years ago -- because I quoted him in a reply. (He had asked a completely innocuous technical question, IIRC.) He said, "I am deleting my entire online presence, so please remove the post that quoted me." I went and looked at the post, and thought it was actually a well-written response on my part, and so I ignored his request. He posted the original question, and I am not going to delete my reply just because he got cold feet years and years later. It wasn't even a topic anyone would be squeamish about putting online.

Anyway, I think once it's posted publicly, it's public and people have to deal with that. But it is possible that someone could sue on a copyright basis, and I can imagine such a suit being won. (IANAL or even a law student, etc.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:38 AM on November 27, 2004

You might have small chance of success (my initial thought was "give it up") if what you posted was in some way in violation of the law - for example, you libeled someone. If this is the case, you could tell the site owner that failure to remove the post would expose him/her to being sued (being an accomplice, so to speak). Perhaps you could get a lawyer-like friend to help you with the wording for such a letter. (A letter with the letterhead of a legal firm would be even better, if potentially more expensive.) And no, I have no idea whether such a suit would be successful.

Also remember that archive.org may have picked up the posting as well.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2004

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