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It's not uncommon on superuser, programmers, and stackoverflow to come across questions that involve, or where the answer may involve, violating some agreement that may exist between the OP and some third-party entity/organization. For instance, questions like this one:

https://superuser.com/questions/465500/unable-to-install-mac-os-lion-on-vmware

The specific activity the OP is engaged in there likely violates the terms of a EULA. At the same time, there does seem to be a valid question there, the question being something along the lines of "what are my options for running a VM if my CPU does not have hardware VT support?".

So my question is, what is the proper role for the community to take in such situations?

My own personal opinion is that we should not be arbiters and enforcers of third-party licenses, contracts, or other agreements. People come here looking for specific answers to specific questions, and while something like "note that by doing this you are technically violating agreement X" may be appropriate to include as a note or disclaimer as part of an answer, I do not think such information often (if ever) constitutes an answer in and of itself. Nor do I think questions should be closed (or rated down) simply for asking for information that may be related to activities which violate a third-party agreement.

What to do then, when encountering such a question?

My suggestion would be that if you are aware of a question that, to the best of your knowledge, involves violating a third-party agreement, and this knowledge makes you feel disinclined to answer the question that's actually being asked, then the most appropriate thing to do is simply not answer the question. Ignore it, move on to the next one, and don't try to distract the OP by posting comments or answers along the lines of "hey, you're violating agreement X!". Post like that are basically just noise, aren't they?

If a company wants to try to enforce their EULA/NDA/etc., then let them. And let the courts decide which parts of the agreement are actually enforceable and which parts are not, and what penalty, if any, should apply for violating them. But most of us here are not lawyers, and in any case none of us are responsible for enforcing agreements that exist between a user and some external third-party. At least not in our capacity as community members and contributors, anyways.

In short, my opinion is that our goal should always be to help people, not to drown them in legalese or condemn what they're trying to do (exception: if what they are trying to do is blatantly, criminally illegal; as-in violating established criminal law as opposed to a civil, potentially non-binding/non-enforceable contract/agreement).

But I'm interested in seeing what the community's opinion is on this subject.

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This is not a real "answer" to your question nor official policy, so please bear with me when I'm rambling a little.

First of all, NDAs are a very specific case: Should moderators enforce NDAs for software vendors?

No user can sign an NDA on SEI's part, and therefore SEI [Stack Exchange, Inc. ] is not required to act when a user breaks a contract with a third party to which SEI has no part.

As for other aspects, it's true that no one here is a lawyer and should be bound to make these decisions, at least not moderators. In general, when flagging: Don't let moderators decide on what is wrong or right, legal or illegal. Let the community decide to close or salvage the questions if necessary for their technical merits alone.

To give an example, it shouldn't matter whether you want to organize 10,000 (illegally?) downloaded movies or just your holiday videos. There's no point even bringing that detail up. So if possible, give users the benefit of doubt unless they're really up for something.

At this point, the following question also becomes relevant: Is discussion of techniques for removing DRM permitted?

Unless it is a clear call for warez, discussion of DRM should be given the benefit of the doubt.


What you have to understand is that more often than not, questions about, for example, Hackintoshes or installing OS X in a virtual machine are almost unanswerable or generally of low quality, since they apply to very narrow situations. Face it: That particular piece of software simply wasn't meant to run on that hardware; and these questions will just end up in troubleshooting, answers like "It doesn't work", or answers that will never be helpful to anyone else.

As another example, take questions where users are asking how to find out which files a software changes when installing, or how to change their system time, et cetera, only to get around trial period restrictions. Classical X-Y problem, leading to bad questions.

Coming back to the Hackintosh example: You always need very specific hardware to accomplish that, and we don't do hardware recommendations since they become outdated very fast or, again, only apply to very narrow situations. Therefore, there's nothing to be gained from these kinds of questions. They don't make Super User a better place and they don't make the Internet a better place – and if you really care about that sort of hacking, there are other forums you can consult.

So, in my personal opinion, the technical merits of a post should count more than deciding what is illegal or not.


Confused yet?

Interestingly, in 2009, Jeff said, when asked how questions that break ToS or other policies should be handled:

Yes please flag profusely! That's what flagging is there for, and we look at all of them!

As you can see, even here, there's no agreement and the decision was forwarded to moderators. Something we probably don't encourage anymore these days. So, unless there's an official stance from Stack Exchange Inc., we'll continue to let the community handle this on a case by case basis.

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    So in essence, we each vote our conscience on such questions, on a case-by-case basis? – aroth Aug 28 '12 at 1:22
  • In fact, yes, that's always been the case and there's no other official policy. Of course, unless something is clearly about downloading warez, black hat hacking or software cracking, we'll probably give it the benefit of doubt. Hackintosh question are a bit of an exception where we have a policy that's not just about breaking of the license but rather the kinds of questions we don't want to have. – slhck Aug 28 '12 at 7:24
  • IANAL, but aren't discussion sites like this shielded under most circumstances from legal repercussions from user-generated content, at least in the USA? If someone who knows more about the law in this case would like to chime in, please do. – ChimneyImp Sep 2 '12 at 21:45

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