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A recent discussion of policy here left me wondering about the legal reasoning behind it.

On any computer-related forum, there will sometimes be questions related to usage that may violate the EULA. The typical response is that a moderator will close the thread, citing potential legal liability.

I've tried to research this online, but so far have found only discussion based on hearsay. Does anyone know if there exists case law (in the various countries) that supports this concern over liability?

(I'm not expecting anyone here to be a lawyer, but maybe someone has been advised by legal counsel.)

migrated from superuser.com Mar 28 '11 at 18:51

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  • superuser.com/legal – Sathyajith Bhat Mar 28 '11 at 18:58
  • Its all based on legal "risk", an most do not want to risk the wrath of a large corporation and its litigation army. Somewhat about reputation also. – Moab Mar 28 '11 at 19:57
  • Simple: we don't want discussions, we want questions and provide answers. So we close anything that isn't – Ivo Flipse Mar 28 '11 at 20:25
  • I can't really understand your question. Do you ask why such topics could be a problem, if such topics could be a problem or what could happen to SE if caught with them? – Bobby Mar 28 '11 at 20:51
  • is there some actual question on SU that you can provide as a link? Not sure what is being asked here without links to.. something – Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 23:11
8

Many jurisdictions treat people who help others do illegal things as accomplices. But there is typically a high standard of illegality, especially in the United States (the most relevant jurisdiction as far as Stack Exchange is concerned, since its servers and most of its staff is in the US). Explaining how to kill someone may get you in trouble. Helping someone repair their car typically won't, even if that person drives without a license afterwards. Use your judgement.

In my experience (of Stack Exchange and elsewhere), many people want to restrict technical discussions for reasons that have little to do with laws. I often see knee-jerk reactions such as: if you try to bypass a firewall, you're a bad person; if you reverse-engineer software, you're a bad person; if you try to hide something from your employer, you're a bad person; if you try to snoop on your employees, you're a bad person (there's no pleasing some people). These reactions are often based on lack of knowledge or understanding of relevant laws (all of these actions are legal in the US and elsewhere in some circumstances). I recommend ignoring them and concentrating on the technical merits of questions and answers.

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    If you try to use undocumented API, you're a bad person... – Mehrdad Apr 1 '11 at 9:24
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AFAIK, there are legal mechanisms which absolve the service provider (e.g. Stack Exchange itself) of (at least some) liability for content provided by the individual users. In the US, this is OCILLA, in the EU, it is Directive 2001/29/EC.

These usually require the provider to act as soon as he is aware of the problematic content (e.g. when he is notified by a copyright owner), but the provider does not have to actively check everything. Note that with community-organized services like Stack Exchange (or Wikipedia), the community members who do the general housekeeping, removing rule violations etc., are often not directly associated with the service provider organization; these moderators do not usually have legal obligations to delete anything. In case of real potential liability, the employees (or representatives) of the provider would probably directly remove the content (and make sure no (well-meaning but mistaken) community member can restore it).

IMHO, IANAL, etc.

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Even if there were no existing cases, why take the risk ? There is nothing to gain and the possibility of facing legal charges.

There is also the ethical component of the question. Once you start allowing such subjects it's a pretty slippery slope.

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    by that reasoning, it's probably better to switch off the Stack Exchange network's servers, slice them up and turn them into tin foil hats :) – sampablokuper Apr 23 '11 at 2:07
  • @sampa: No it's not. I really don't understand where you are coming from with your comment. I'm not implying to turn off SE, just implying that the restriction rule already applied by SE is a good thing. You are just pushing my original argument to an extremely ridicule conclusion that was never intended. This is just fallacious derision. – Gilles Apr 25 '11 at 3:04
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    it's the basis for your conclusion that I'm criticising, not only the conclusion. If you think I'm wrong to do so, then by all means explain why you believe there's nothing to gain from allowing the discussions that have been being censored here, why you believe there's a realistic possibility that allowing those discussions to occur would cause damaging legal difficulties for Stack Exchange, and why circumventing DRM is unethical. – sampablokuper Apr 26 '11 at 2:38

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