With, what appears to me, an outbreak of questions regarding torrents, torrent downloads, and torrent download optimization I am wondering what we should do with these sort of questions. Most torrent downloads are, in my opinion, used for illegal purposes. There are some distributions of linux (ubunutu) that do use torrent downloads, but I feel that these are fewer and farther in between. Therefore, should we automatically flag and vote to close questions that are torrent related? If so, should the FAQ be updated with a specific mention of this? If not, should we make sure that these questions are within the bounds of legality?

Here are some examples that I can see from simply searching (many other have been deleted I'm sure):

http://superuser.com/questions/17904/how-to-download-torrents-from-the-office

http://superuser.com/questions/24225/increasing-download-speed-for-torrents

http://superuser.com/questions/20997/web-torrent-client-that-supports-monthly-traffic-limit

http://superuser.com/questions/115807/why-has-my-torrent-slowed-down

http://superuser.com/questions/31212/torrent-uploading-on-a-college-network

Questions that I feel are OK

http://superuser.com/questions/163959/how-can-i-make-upload-torrent-file

(This one kinda) http://superuser.com/questions/46903/downloading-movies-with-bit-torrent

http://superuser.com/questions/163920/in-torrent-what-is-seed-feed-peer

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Maybe time for torrents to have their own stackexchange site? –  ricbax Oct 22 '10 at 15:40
    
@ricbax I don't think there is a demand for a site quite yet. –  KronoS Oct 22 '10 at 18:03
    
The second question from your OK-Samples should be closed as Off-Topic, because it is a question about law and ethnic. –  Bobby Mar 30 '11 at 9:40
    
Lots of Linux distributions prefer BitTorrent distribution. –  Mechanical snail Sep 13 '12 at 11:03

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Torrents are a grey area.

They have legitimate uses as well as the more common illegitimate ones so we have to treat each question on its own merits.

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Then perhaps a warning on the FAQ? –  KronoS Oct 19 '10 at 13:51
    
@KronoS - the Legal page might cover this. –  ChrisF Oct 19 '10 at 13:57
    
Ya at quick glance there seems to be some mention of legality within section 4 –  KronoS Oct 19 '10 at 14:08
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This is the policy followed by the Super User moderators –  Diago Oct 21 '10 at 7:16
    
@Diago then that's the best thing to follow. Thank you. –  KronoS Oct 22 '10 at 14:50

I don't see a problem with questions about torrents what-so-ever. How the tools are used, does not matter (as long as it is not stated in the question). Otherwise we would have to engage the same rules to Cloning-Tools of all kind (including dd, because it could be used to make a clone of a copy-protected CD/DVD).

As long as the question goes like this

How can I make my Torrent-Downloads faster?

and not like this

I want to download $latest_movie_here, but it's so slow, why?

I don't see a problem with them. Sure, certain industries would like to see P2P sharing banned and criminalized completely without exceptions, but that's not the case.

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Torrent software is used for piracy reasons just because it's an excellent platform, and now it's close to de-centralized. Also, this is not ethics.stackexchange; how people use a tool is up to them.

The problem here is that I do not believe the site should judge what people use software for; many have their arguments for doing whatever they do. Take a look at Disney; most of what they claim as "intellectual property" are very very old characters and stories, many of which they took from popular literature, others (such as Mickey) are so ridiculously old that they shouldn't be milking money from anymore. Who am I hurting if I torrent the movie Tron? A company that supports SOPA, PIPA and ACTA? These thoughts cross many people's minds.

Now, of course the site shouldn't allow clear questions about piracy. In my opinion, a question such as "How do I find and download movies with uTorrent" is not ok, but "How do I download using uTorrent" is.

And actually, if this ACTA law passes, I'll endorse people elsewhere to never buy a movie anymore.
The last sentence is just a personal opinion.

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Torrents are not just for piracy. –  Simon Sheehan Feb 12 '12 at 13:42
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@SimonSheehan Precisely my point. I'm just saying that even though torrents can be used for anything (such as getting ISOs of your Linux distro of choice), SU should not care about that, and simply answer on-topic questions from users of computer software, as it should. –  Camilo Martin Feb 12 '12 at 14:29
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That makes sense. +1 –  Simon Sheehan Feb 12 '12 at 14:34
    
You had me until you infered that it's ok to "torrent" (or steal) movies or products from those that support SOPA, PIPA, or ACTA. The action that should be taken is boycotting and not stealing products. –  KronoS Feb 12 '12 at 21:31
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@KronoS I did not mention stealing, read again. I said I'll endorse people not to buy from these guys. In any case, consider the fact that sharing a file makes no harm to the producer given the fact that you wouldn't buy if you had to (i.e., it's not like shoplifting, and actually people did lend VHS tapes, cassettes, books, etc. to friends before, this is just the same on a larger scale). Besides, sharing or simply not buying, the fact is that we must not give a cent to these guys until they stop trying to pass draconian laws. –  Camilo Martin Feb 13 '12 at 1:03
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@Camilo you dampen whatever point you're trying to make by indicating you support the potential illegal activities under certain circumstances - you are bringing us back to ethics.SE from the other direction, with all the usual arguments. The bottom line is we're not here to debate this stuff (there's a whole internet doing that already); if someone is trying to do something illegal (doesn't matter if we consider the laws bad) we won't assist them on this site. However, if we don't know what they're using a tool for, we have to assume they're using it for innocent purposes. –  DMA57361 Feb 13 '12 at 9:47
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@DMA57361 I agree with that, really. I clearly mentioned the site shouldn't allow questions about how to pirate stuff (or otherwise go against the law). And I also said that I just voiced an opinion. My comment to KronoS is also an opinion. In any case, it seems we both agree, the core of my answer being the same as what you say: if we don't know what they're using a tool for, we have to assume they're using it for innocent purposes. –  Camilo Martin Feb 13 '12 at 23:51
    
The problem with opinions is that they colour everything else that you say. This is especially true when your input is more opinion (para's 2 and 4, so 8 lines, plus that 5 line comment above) than not (para's 1 and 3; 4 lines). It's great that your thinking ultimately lines up with that of the site, but your delivery of that agreement comes across as ambiguous, since the opinion elements don't seem to line up perfectly with the more objective bits, and the opinions are what people pay the most attention to. –  DMA57361 Feb 14 '12 at 8:18
    
@DMA57361 I understand your point. I believe this happens because my opinion indeed doesn't match what I think should be done. In the end we're all biased, the question feels just as biased to me (should we ban an Area51 site on guns because they're designed to kill? Altough killing is far less illegal than downloading pirated MP3s, it seems). –  Camilo Martin Feb 14 '12 at 21:16
    
Unfortunately, morales and ethics are rather fluid and subjective, whereas laws are not (well...), so we use what we've got to do the best we can. As for your aside, owning firearms is legal (especially in the USA - home of SE inc; and have usages outside of simply killing people) but using them for robbery/murder/etc is not (so a site incorporating Firearms generally is fine), similarly using (Torrent) software is legal but using it for copyright infringement is not (so a site incorporating (Torrent) software generally is fine). –  DMA57361 Feb 14 '12 at 21:49
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@DMA57361 But when I first saw firearms.SE I couldn't avoid thinking; some thief/psycho/etc, somewhere, uses this kind of website to learn how to use a gun. After all, guns are design solely for the purpose of killing (even if legally, as in hunting or "politically-ok" wars), but bittorrent is not designed for piracy. It scares me much more to think of the firearms case, since weapons cannot be used for anything other than killing. Just as a reminder, the core of the OP's question is morals, not law (answering questions on torrents is as legal as answering questions on handling/using a gun). –  Camilo Martin Feb 15 '12 at 0:13
    
Indeed, the Firearms.SE makes me a little uneasy too (although, I've never visited the site), but I doubt anyone wanting to use them for criminal purposes would need to learn much from experts - they'd just need to get their hands on one... Comparing knives (and cooking.SE) with torrents (and SU) would probably be closer. Anyway, we're now slowly filling this comment thread with little real purpose, shall we leave it at this? –  DMA57361 Feb 15 '12 at 8:17
    
@DMA57361 I think so. We agree, so why fret about it anymore :) Regarding firearms, I think thiefs, psychos and others do research a lot, and a site with Q&A about performance and pricing of ammunition in their front page Probably helps them in their efforts. For instance, about an year ago or so, it became news here that a bunch of organized criminals had detailed manuals with several pages about firearms usage/maintenance and other things. –  Camilo Martin Feb 15 '12 at 9:41
    
@DMA57361 Oh, and it's not my intention to go on with the comments, so you can ignore that last one if you prefer :P –  Camilo Martin Feb 15 '12 at 9:43

I agree with @ChrisF's viewpoint, but don't feel that any conclusive action has been demonstrated as a result of his answer:

Torrents are a grey area.

They have legitimate uses as well as the more common illegitimate ones so we have to treat each question on its own merits.

I don't believe anyone else has mentioned a definite path to follow either. Torrents are not a grey area, the possibly copyrighted material that is distributed though them is. However, there is a simple solution to deal with all of these cases.

In many of the questions you linked to in your original question, the actual content being distributed was not mentioned - as should be the case for these types of questions. There are no legal repercussions for aiding in the use of legitimate software, and following the "innocent until proven guilty" mentality, we should assume so unless we have reason to believe otherwise.

Thus, I present this as a possible solution:

Any questions regarding torrents should make no mention of what content is being transferred by actually using said torrent files. There are no merits to supplying what content the torrent is providing the end user, and specifying it will only further support suppressive viewpoints on torrent questions.

Torrents have legitimate purposes, and we should promote this type of use on Super User. All questions related to torrents should be separated from any mention of what is being downloaded.

Simple, really - just remove any mention of content, illegal or not. We have no reason for discussing what is being downloaded anyways, since it's just plain irrelevant (not to mention the privacy implications).

So, a question comes in with mentions of illegal comment. Moderators, remove all mentions of this content. If the person who proposed the question insists on including said information, the question should then be closed and deleted, and the person directed elsewhere (with appropriate links to Super User's legal policies).

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I can't see anything legally or morally objectionable in the questions you cite. The “kinda” one is a bit of an exception, but it asks about the legality.

Mentions of specific torrent-related websites or communities that are known to practice copyright infringement would be a different matter. But such questions would tend to be off-topic here anyway, they're Webapps.SE's problem. Furthermore this wouldn't really be a matter for the community to decide, as the SE team must follow US legislation (since SE is hosted in the US) — it's up to them to edict a policy on US-legally dodgy topics. But again, questions purely about the technology are not concerned here.

There is no such thing as an intrinsically illegal or immoral technology. (I mean, there are mass mailing questions on SO and SF...) Please do not close or flag questions just because you think the answer may perhaps be used for illegal purposes.

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Although the examples above may be off-topic most of the illegal/morally objectionable questions have been closed to moderators, and therefore those questions are the best that I could come up with. I also disagree with closing/flagging these questions. Asking a question on SU of "How do I hack someone's computer to get their info" is definitely not approved. How then are these sort of questions different than that? –  KronoS Oct 20 '10 at 16:10
    
@KronoS: “How do I hack someone's computer” questions are approved on SU. All you have to do is not mention that it's not your computer (“I forgot the root password”). If the questions you cite are the best you could come with in terms of questionability, then the current policy is definitely not too lenient. –  Gilles Oct 20 '10 at 16:38
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Is there likely to be a question about 'torrent' technology? By that I mean in using the term 'torrent' isn't the question inherently involving a seed/tracker distribution question? Torrents as a keyword/tag are bound to be vague by definition compared to actual questions. If there is a P2P question about a program such as Vuze or uTorrent or VLC, or a protocol for peer to peer sharing, it wouldn't actually be a question anymore specifically about torrents than it would computers or ISP. –  mfg Oct 20 '10 at 17:00

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