22

Specifically, I'm speaking about this question: Windows 10 License in UEFI.

Long story short, OP currently uses Windows with a license provided by his university through DreamSpark. He's going to move it to a new PC and wants to make sure that it's not possible to re-use it on the old one.

The thing is, DreamSpark license forbids installing Windows on computers that don't have COA sticker (so you can only use it as an upgrade), so what OP is trying to do, even if technically feasible, is forbidden by license.

I think that it's a special case of XY problem. OP asks how to Y (move the license), but he assumes that X (installing DreamSpark Windows on his new PC) is possible. Technically X is possible, but he accepted a license agreement which forbids it.

In his comment to my answer another user suggested that the license may not apply in this case and even if it does, a proper answer should answer actual question asked. Here's actual discussion from comments:

Him: This answer essentially says: "To run windows legally, you need a sticker". The question OP asked is: how can I technically transfer my UEFI-contained Windows 10 license to a second computer? In spite of my best effort, I fail to see how this answer the question(s).

Me: I basically wanted to say "even if it's technically possible, it's illegal". I'm aware that this doesn't answer the question, but I believe Super User is about solving actual problems. The problem to be solved here isn't "How to transfer Windows license" as asked in the question, it's "How to transfer DreamSpark Windows license to a OS-less PC" - and answer to that question is "it's illegal".

Him: There is so much wrong in one comment that I don't know what to start with or how to answer politely yet correctly in only 600 characters. To summarize: The Microsoft DreamSpark Direct Subscription Agreement is only enforceable in the US, not under international law, and the scope of superuser isn't the US only; "This isn't legal" isn't a valid technical answer unless OP explicitly asked about the legality of something, period; and if we would observe every single existing law in the world, crypto.stackexchange.com wouldn't even exist.

In my opinion we should apply the same policy we have on pirated software: it's illegal, we don't answer such questions. In this case user wasn't aware of legal issues, so explaining it seems like a reasonable thing to do.

In such cases:

  1. Is completely ignoring Y and answering that X is illegal appropriate? Should it be a comment?
  2. Is completely ignoring X and answering potentially illegal Y appropriate?
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    I think a simple point here is we arn't a site for licencing advice. We deal with technical issues, and well, its off topic. – Journeyman Geek Jun 9 '16 at 13:23
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    @JourneymanGeek I would actually argue that the question is about hardware AND software: It is important for the community to know how, technically, the licenses are implemented in the hardware and/or software; as, if nothing else, not to damage them by doing an action seemingly unrelated (as for example, flashing the BIOS/UEFI). In addition, transferring the digital license to another computer, legal or not, is a technical question. And also, half of the links I used in my answer are coming from a sub-website of microsoft.com. – 7heo.tk Jun 9 '16 at 13:42
  • Consider posting the issue here: law.stackexchange.com – Gary's Student Jun 21 '16 at 18:24
29

As pointed out in a comment to this answer, a software license is a contract, as opposed to a law. The contract is, or isn't, enforceable, depending on the law(s) that apply where the user who asked the question is located.

While it is technically feasible to determine where a connection from a user to this website originated from, it is impossible to be certain where a user is located.

Therefore, it is impossible to determine with certainty if the question asked by a user goes against a legally enforceable contract; let alone to determine the existence/acceptance of such a contract.

As I have written in a comment to the same question, my opinion on the matter is that stack exchange at large (unless explicitly in the scope of a stack exchange website related to legal matters) is neither the right place to discuss or settle any legal question in depth, nor to limit, censor, modify or restrict a question or an answer based on local laws (so, obviously, to the exception of international law) or contracts.

This is simply because, setting aside the lack of legal knowledge from most of us; it is impossible, unless this information is provided by the OP in the first place, to determine if a question about a contract is breaching or not a local law or an enforceable contract: Internet is a worldwide technology, affecting users, well, worldwide; and a question or answer that might be illegal in your country might be perfectly legal in another (such example is the stack exchange website crypto.stackexchange.com which I believe to be mostly discussing matters that are illegal in Iran - and possibly India and/or China, and/or other countries).


So, in my opinion, applying the same policy on any activity which is only suspected to be illegal (while impossible to confirm) as on pirated software is a very dangerous and close-minded shortcut: while piracy is mostly illegal worldwide (even if not enforced everywhere consistently), the rights of corporations and other private entities on citizens and public life is highly variable from place to place; and it is objectionable for most of the countries on this planet to consider to ever apply the policy applied in the U.S. on this matter.

That being said, as written in a comment from @Jpaugh, and in the answer from @Alok, it is better to inform that a question is possibly illegal (along with why, how, and where; if at all possible) via a comment, in case OP didn't know.

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    Actually, piracy is explicitly against the terms of service - see section 3 of stackexchange.com/legal . But I typically find I don't need to pull out that arguement at all. – Journeyman Geek Jun 9 '16 at 13:50
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    Wait, where did I say the contrary? – 7heo.tk Jun 9 '16 at 14:29
  • Did I misunderstand the last paragraph? Are you for or against it? – Journeyman Geek Jun 9 '16 at 14:30
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    I do not agree we as a community should allow questions, that result in answers which explain how to violate the law of any country or the EULA of a peice of software. It is our job, as subject matter experts or educated users on a particular subject, to help promote unethical or questionable acts. If the answer to a question, with regards to an action, literally results in a violation of a EULA for the software then we vote to close that question as being out of scope for Superuser – Ramhound Jun 9 '16 at 14:38
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    @Ramhound So you are for closing crypto.stackexchange.com once and for good?! – 7heo.tk Jun 9 '16 at 14:43
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    Without getting into the argument on either side, you refer to things that are illegal in some places or most places. How would the site navigate that? If it's illegal below some percentage of countries or of world population, it's OK to answer; above that it's off-topic? Or, if it's illegal only in countries with oppressive governments, it's OK to answer? – fixer1234 Jun 9 '16 at 18:28
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    And what if you consider the US government oppressive? Standards are variable all around the world, what is considered communism in the US (sanders) is considered right-wing in some European countries... All I see here are people failing to take the necessary distance to consider the problem under the right light. – 7heo.tk Jun 10 '16 at 8:36
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    What does that have to do with anything. We as a community, the Superuser community, have decided that allowing questions that ask for answers that lead to actions that violate the EULA of software are not on topic. Knowledgeable users will point this violation out AND the exceptions for certain regions, but none of the points you bring up, have anything to do with questions here at Superuser – Ramhound Jun 11 '16 at 5:42
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    EULAs are contracts, not laws. An important distinction, because contracts only bind parties. We don't need to decide whose laws we do and do not respect; what a user and another party have agreed to, is of no concern to us, and it shouldn't be. What business does Superuser have enforcing a contract it cannot know exists, cannot know the terms of and is not a party to? – Marcks Thomas Jun 15 '16 at 17:08
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    (technical) license != (legal) license. Please don't confuse others, use $search_engine first. For the record, technical vs legal is the very reason for this question. – 7heo.tk Jun 17 '16 at 17:38
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    Short version: The enforcement of licenses, EULA's, and other civil contracts is a matter for the licensing parties, their lawyers, and the courts. We're not here to make judgements, rulings, or undertake enforcement on their behalf. Either answer the question for real, or move on. – aroth Jun 19 '16 at 0:52
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    Hey this is a technical site and we will reference technical documentation - if it's not applicable per the documentation, that's our answer - it's the user's decision on whether or not it's legal for them. It's the same as how can I use wireshark to sniff this or that - here's how the technical documentation explains the process - what you do with the program is none of our business. – Raystafarian Jun 19 '16 at 8:43
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    @7heo.tk I agree with you completely, except that if an answer suspects that the action might violate the law or a contract, even in only some jurisdictions, he/she has an obligation to the community at least mention it. Yes, every developer has sole legal obligation for his/her actions; but we should at least warn each other when using an answer as-is is likely to be illegal. – jpaugh Jun 20 '16 at 17:32
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    @jpaugh totally agreed. I'll edit my post to mention that. – 7heo.tk Jun 22 '16 at 10:05
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    @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος I can't make sense of what you just wrote. How about discussing that in a chat, rather? – 7heo.tk Jun 22 '16 at 10:19
13

The replies here just discuss whether to give actual information on a question if that might be illegal.

Regardless of that debate - I don't believe that saying you shouldn't do this is an answer, however you certainly can post it as a comment to warn the poster that he might be asking to break the law (as he may not know such 'illegal' actions that are based on EULA and not very obvious to common sense).

In short, ignoring the question of whether it is appropriate or not, I'd definitely prefer that if you do go for I won't answer this then that should not be posted as an answer!

7

I'm just going to put an answer in here regarding legal vs possible. Take for instance travel.stackexchange.com:

Leaving Thailand after months long overstay - not once does an answer point out that "the S.S. Minnow is leaving from Bangkok port at 25:30 on June 31st and that the boatswain Scooby Doo will allow stow aways at the South loading zone in exchange for 4500 tam and will take you all the way to Atlantis in roughly 3.5 beard-seconds."

The site is not a legal advice site, but does address the most sensible ways to answer the question. On SU there could be several questions for the same subject matter that have varying degrees of on- and off- topicness:

  • How can I force Adobe to accept my license key so I can use the (non-volume) license on 30 computers? (off-topic) - that's against the EULA
  • How can I transfer an Adobe license from my laptop to desktop while keeping my laptop activated? (off-topic) - that's against the EULA
  • How can I transfer an Adobe license from my PC to my macbook since my PC is in a river? (on-topic) That's against the EULA, but keys aren't interchangeable between versions.
  • How can I transfer my Adobe license to my new Operating System after my HDD caught fire because squirrels used my computer for a place to store acorns? (on-topic) Did you plug in a toaster? Just call them with your key and let them know.
  • How can I activate 700 machines with the same Adobe license (on-topic) You can't, that's against the EULA. If you need multiple activations, look into volume licensing.
  • How can I activate 700 machines with the same Adobe license despite the fact that it's against the EULA? (off-topic) You know that's against the EULA and want to bypass it.

See the nuances? If a user is misunderstanding how something works - it's on-topic to explain to them why - it's useful information to them and to future visitors. If a user is looking for help in committing fraudulent activity and indicates the user is aware of what is being asked, it's not useful for the audience that we want to attract to our site.

4

I've closed it - I've explained in the comments why, but EULAs seem out of scope for the site - its not really a hardware or software problem in a traditional sense.

In addition, its kind of broad, squeezing three questions in one and the one that seems on topic seems ignored (whether windows stores a key in UEFI).

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    I think that out of scope statement is pretty broad considering we have several great questions about licensing – Raystafarian Jun 16 '16 at 16:31
  • @Raystafarian I think that out of scope statement is pretty broad considering we have several great questions about licenseing. – EKons Jun 21 '16 at 17:05
-6

I think the first thing we need to examine is the question of legality. For the record, unauthorized copying of software (e.g. in violation of your EULA) is THEFT under US law. Not only can a person be sued civilly, the government can criminally prosecute you for copyright infringement. If convicted, you can be fined up to $250,000, sentenced to jail for up to five years, or both. Further, helping someone break the law is often considered conspiracy whether you knew a law was being broken or not. Even worse, StackExchange/StackOverflow can be held liable as well since they're the intermediary content provider.

Location of the person asking and the person answering are largely irrelevant. The treaties we enter with foreign governments address piracy and make copyright laws enforceable worldwide (exceptions being countries like North Korea or Iran). The basic rule of thumb is if you can read this post, US software piracy laws CAN touch you.

The second issue is whether an appropriate answer is advising the action is against the law. Well, let's see what the FAQ's say...

The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

In the example you provided it's totally acceptable to advise someone what they're doing may be a violation of law. The "try this instead" would be to acquire a new license for the software product.

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    This answer does not fit the point in this specific case: it is not about a thing that is forbidden in (nearly) all countries, but about a thing that is forbidden in some, unclear/undefined in others, or allowed in the rest. 7heo.tk did make that clear in his answer. For example, EU courts have said that you can resell volume licenses of operating systems under certain conditions, US courts have said you cannot. A member of the EU can therefore do it, as long as he does not try to export the licenses to the US. Everything else would mean EU courts and laws could be broken by US at will. – user121391 Jun 20 '16 at 9:57

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