Can a FOSS contributor retracts his/her contributions?

Another aspect of Rage-quit: Coder unpublished 17 lines of JavaScript and “broke the Internet” is from the comments I've read on-site: is it okay for a FOSS contributor to retract his/her contribution from a public site? Some says yes (contributor has rights) and some says no (once open it is open forever).

I would think the answer is obvious, if we separate the contribution and the publishing.

An author of an FOSS contribution has full rights to his contribution - he can retract, remove, destroy, change, or even change the license of his work. There is no question about it.

But due to the nature of FOSS, once the contribution is published, anyone can take it and re-publish it (with attributions as needed). The original author has no say about it and can't demand that they be taken down; because when he/she published the code he/she gave the world irrevocable right to do just that.

That does not mean the author cannot revoke his/her work, of course they can. It's just that he can't demand that everyone else must also take down the copy of his/her work.

Now, when author publishes his/her work through a 3rd party, however, he/she has to obey the terms of this 3rd party publisher. Some will give the rights to retract and delete, some do not. The point is, the publisher must make the terms and conditions clear.

Github for example allows you to retract and delete anything you publish on it - no trace will be left on its site if you choose to remove your work. Facebook is at the opposite - although at the beginning they didn't make it clear, nowadays it is pretty obvious that while you can delete your account and logins, whatever you submit to Facebook will live forever, and they can even use it long after you've removed your account. You give them that rights when you join Facebook. If you don't agree - well, don't use the Facebook. Simple.

Now back to They should have made it clear that they allow (or disallow) contributors to remove their contributions; and the stand by that. If they allow authors to remove their contributions, people who use the service knows that anything on npmjs should be considered ephemeral and can disappear at anytime - thus they can take mitigative actions (or choose not to use the service at all). If they don't allow removals, authors who contribute to the service knows that anything they choose to publish through is perpetual and can then choose whether or not they want to contribute. But can't have it both ways - because in the end you will irritate both the authors, and the end users.

Posted on 27 Mar 2016, 23:41 - Categories: General
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