Ask SPLC: Am I obligated to take down an embarrassing story if the subject of it asks?

A: It depends. First of all, it is a good idea for your publication to have a policy on takedown demands or retractions. Many publications have a policy that is some variation of stating that there will be no takedowns or retractions unless something in the article is false. 

It is important to keep in mind that information that was lawful when it was published does not suddenly become improper just because of the passage of time. If the information was factual when you published it, you have no legal duty to change it now because a subject is embarrassed or otherwise offended. 

If you’re dealing with the author of a piece (for instance, a former staffer or contributor that wrote a controversial column and now does not wish to have that opinion out in the world so publicly, who wants what they wrote to be removed, you must take into account copyright laws. Generally, when a student creates a work, that student retains the copyright and can exercise all the rights of a copyright owner, including how it may and may not be used. An exception to this is if there is a work-for-hire relationship between the student and the publication. This type of relationship hardly ever exists for a high school or college newspaper.

You can visit this this page on our site for more detailed information on how to respond to takedown requests. 

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