The best way of handling posts deletion requests

Continuing the discussion from How to prevent community content from being used to train LLMs like ChatGPT?:

Maybe in theory, but in practice, I know many forums where users will have a hard time getting their posts actually deleted. I would even say it may be what will happen with most forums.

Is it legal to do so?
It might also depend on the jurisdiction. I know for example a French forum which tries to rely on some legal aspects of “collective creations” and say they can’t to refuse to delete because it would “denature” said creation. There is some logical basis to it, but they do use it a certain way. If all the participants of a topic were to agree, they still won’t do it. In reality, it is an effective way of grabbing the ownership of all content. At least of getting an illegitimate indefinite licence to use.

What would be the best way to handle deletion requests if one wants to act “correctly” towards users?


As @mattdm says this really isn’t the place for legal debate.

Please be very careful with language like the above. Many of the site operators here work with users populations where they are legally obligated to do precisely that.


There is no 'legal advice" expected. People can still have their understanding of things as non-lawyers. Correct or not. This is the premises of anything you read on a forum. At least it should be regarded that way, IMHO. But if we leave the law aside for one second, the funny thing with these answers is that it seems to come from a POV where forum owners want to appropriate user content and they know it isn’t totally right to do so. It does give a little this feeling.

One way to look at it is that deletion requests should be honored because it would be the right thing to do. Don’t for example Facebook delete? I believe they do, but I’m not sure. It does come with its problems for a forum.

If there is indeed a refusal to delete, shouldn’t it be clearly announced at the start? Again, even without “legality” concerns, because it would be the least to do. One argument is that users should be informed beforehand in a straightforward way.

Is murder legal? Well, I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer :laughing:

PS: By “correctly” at the end, I meant “being correct towards users”, not a “legal” way. The legal aspect came a bit from the posts I answered to. I was mainly seeking opinions :+1:


The second word in the title of this topic is “legality”, the second paragraph of OP asks “Is it legal to do so?”. We definitely can’t answer either aspect here.


My apologies. I gave context just above, but without editing the initial post. It’s now done.

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I don’t really agree with this. I don’t think they should automatically be honoured because they will break the integrity of other discussions, which provide value.

I think it is fine to take them case by case. Often anonymisation may be enough.


Here’s what we do:

  1. We have a formal process for making a personal data request, which could include removing posts. This is outlined in our privacy statement.
  2. If someone asks for a post to be deleted, we point them to that, but also note that we prefer to anonymize accounts if possible because it preserves discussion and may help others, and offer to do that.

Most people are fine with the anon option.


For what it’s worth, and considering the fact that it only happened a few times in my instances, I have the same experience, which is great (for the information integrity).
If an anonymization is refused, I honor the demand and delete the account without further discussion, though.


this topic is discussing two different things IMO - deleting user accounts is not the same thing as deleting user posts. is the account the property of the user? why is anonymize not enough?


In some cases, aggregating posts’ content from an anonymized account can help identify or guess the poster’s identity.


i have thoughts on this i can’t express here.

so are we literally talking about permanent deletion of records? or soft deletion? permanent deletion of a user account?

let’s be very clear on what we are discussing with deleting content.


Deleting content can get very time-consuming, if a person’s posts have been requoted a lot (especially if not with attribution), and if they’ve been indexed by third-party sites they can show up in searches for a long time, and there’s not much the original site can do about that. I know companies that have been threatened with lawsuits over content that was reposted from their site without permission and was out of their control for removal.

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The laws with papers published at universities in the U.S. typically are, those papers become the legal intellectual property of the university itself. This is in effect what it means to publish a paper in the first place, that the words no longer belong to the author but are now in the custody of the university, or book publisher.

I’m not a lawyer or anything that’s just my understanding of how that works.

Forums can be similar, but definitely depends on the country where the servers are and choice of administrators how they want to run things.

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I come here to reply specifically the same. But then I remember Reddit and how I edited plus deleted all my posts because their policies.

There is no universal approach, I hope all embrace freedom as universal right, above everything personal.


If the author(s) are employees of the university. It would basically be “work made for hire”:

  1. Ownership of copyright
    (a) Initial Ownership.—Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work. The authors of a joint work are coowners of copyright in the work.
    (b) Works Made for Hire.—In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.
    (c) Contributions to Collective Works…
    Source: Chapter 2 - Circular 92 | U.S. Copyright Office

Otherwise, no, I highly doubt the claims you’re making here. Or you would please need to back these statements up. I looked up the policies of several US universities and was unable to find anthing saying what you allege. Quite the contrary. For example:

When does the University own IP?
In most cases, students who are not employed by UC own their original academic work. Under law and policy, UC owns IP made by UC employees in the course and scope of their work. When University gift/grant/contract funds, resources, or research facilities are used, UC may also own the resulting IP.
Source: Guide to Intellectual Property as a Student at the University of California | UCOP

You can have a look at these answers on researchgate:

That was more the spirit of the question, indeed. What would be the correct and respectful way to handle things. Legally, I’m quite convinced what many forum owners want to do isn’t good. In most jurisdictions. They throw in some “beliefs” here and there, but deep down, they know it, reason why the “no legal advice” excuse popped up immediately in this very topic. All while legal advice to be carful about what to not say has directly been provided. But besides legal aspects, what would you want to do to treat your users well?

Anyway, this isn’t the place to discuss any of it.

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Oh I may have been mistaken to say that then, thought I remembered reading that but may have been about application portfolios for art/architecture departments not necessarily written papers. Did read for grad students doing paid research that is in same category as paid staff papers and their papers are considered I.P. of the school.

With discourse forums seems like default settings are people have some time to choose if they want to edit or delete a post, with other forum system have seen it can just be one hour of time before a post is made permanent and can’t be changed without opening a help ticket request which may be denied.

Trying to find where I just read this at my Alma Mater site well here is link for if anyone wants to get a degree in I.P. law:

What Intellectual Property Lawyers Do

Intellectual Property (IP) lawyers:

  • Help clients establish, protect and license intellectual property rights
  • Represent creators of patentable technology; authors of automatically copyrighted creative works, such as books, music, movies, or software, and organizations with trademarks or trade secrets
  • Negotiate, draft and review documents to create patents or use/ license all forms of IP
  • Interpret complex statutes and regulations and clients’ scientific, cultural and business environment
  • Practice in private firms of all sizes, including solo practice, in-house counsel departments, and government offices, such as US Patent and Trademark Office

“Students own their works developed in lecture-based courses or outside of any direct support from UW. If a student is an employee of the UW, including a graduate student doing funded research, then works created through the student’s employment are subject to the UW IP policy (EO 36). If a student participates in a research lab or in sponsored research, the student’s contributions to IP will be handled consistently with that research portfolio.”

It gets more confusing with patent rights for engineering looks like, may be a race for who can get to the patent office first, lol.

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I would usually approve a request to delete a post if it’s coming from the author of the post or if there is a clear violation in that someone has posted something that they don’t have a right to post such as copyright material.

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