This is a policy question. The proposed policy in the question (or answers) will be adopted in the case that after 7 days it receives at least 5 up votes with a 2/3 majority in favor. Please upvote or downvote this question based on your opinion of the policy statement as presented (not based on whether the premise of the question is reasonable).

  1. Please first read: Should we permit linking to illegal stuff?

  2. If you have a proposal please post it as an answer.

  3. I will start with a draft just for online copies of copyrighted books which are both unauthorized and illegal (under laws of USA and the state that its laws apply to SE). If you want to include any other thing please post it as a modification to the policy in an answer.

  4. This is a policy for the site that we adopt (in the case it is accepted) and does not imply legal obligations of any kind for moderators/community.

Policy Proposal (Jan. 19, 2011): Links to unauthorized illegal online copies of copyrighted books are not welcome on this site. Posting such links is considered unethical and not respectful to our colleagues; it is not a nice practice. Users are discouraged from posting such links.

Questions asking for such links should be closed.

  • $\begingroup$ "unauthorized and illegal" -- do you man this "and" or should it be "or"? Did I miss a definition of illegal (i.e. which country's law) in the other thread? Who has to prove, the poster or the accuser? $\endgroup$ – Raphael Jan 19 '11 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael, lol :), I mean the intersection of illegal and unauthorized, so e.g. Google books is OK although it is not clear that the books there are authorized. Illegal means illegal in USA (and the state whose laws apply to the site, as I stated above and in the other question). I think you are unnecessarily complicating things, please read my answer there and comment under it if it is not clear. The other question is still there so please use that one for discussing and let us keep this one for policy proposals and voting. If you have a better proposal post it here as an answer :). $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 19 '11 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ I was merely asking for clarification, not discussion, and here, since the policy is nowehere stated as clearly in your other post. But there goes. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Jan 19 '11 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ I see that after all the discussions in the other thread, you still cannot understand why it is a bad idea to use illegality as a criterion. If you think that you can figure out what is illegal and what is not by yourself, then good luck with it. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 19 '11 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: I added "illegal" because of JeffE's comment. I personally haven't made my own mind but I think there is clear support for removing such links whatever such means. I think deciding if something is illegal is similar to deciding other things, obviously I don't expect it to be objective, correct, or without problem. If you have a better proposal or wording please post it as an answer, complaining without an alternative or how to improve the proposal is not very helpful in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 20 '11 at 0:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am against having any policy on this unless it can be defined. Even without moderator intervention, a question or an answer which most people feel wrong will be downvoted, and it will be enough for most purposes. Which problem are you trying to solve by introducing this policy? $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 20 '11 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ Policies are needed for moderator interventions. If your proposal is not about moderator interventions, then it is not about a policy. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 20 '11 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ 2. We have a link to these stuff and I want to know how we should deal with them. If the OP asks why are you down voting my post what can I say? I don't like your post since it contains such links? My guess is that OP will reply who said such links are not allowed on the site? $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 20 '11 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ 3. I posted this based on Suresh's request, pointing to the discussion post might have been sufficient for justifying a down vote. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 20 '11 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ 1. If you read the statement above it says exactly what you said, i.e. discouraging such links, it does not say remove them. I think we understand what we are talking about though defining it might be difficult, that is why I am saying if you (or others) have a better definition or ideas on how to improve the proposal above PLEASE post it. (I corrected typos in my comment and removed the one above yours.) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 20 '11 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ And in the case the modification is accepted it may need moderator intervention. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 20 '11 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the gobal link posting to this question is not visible on the parent page. I think it should be. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Jan 21 '11 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: [status-completed]? $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 31 '11 at 4:26

I think the above policy is a little too patriarchal. A policy doesn't need to tell its violators that they are not nice, disrespectful, morally deficient, etc.

Why not say something like:

Links to material for which unauthorized distribution is illegal (according to United States and applicable state law) are not welcome on this site. Users are discouraged from posting such links, and questions asking for such links will be closed.

  • $\begingroup$ This sounds good to me. :) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 21 '11 at 3:27
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Many authors disseminate their own preprints in ways which are technically illegal according to the fine print of journal copyright agreements. This sort of thing is typically considered fine by the CS community, but your wording would rule it out. The wording in the original question “Links to unauthorized illegal online copies […] are not welcome” seems a bit more appropriate. $\endgroup$ – PLL Jan 22 '11 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @PLL, based on previous discussions, I guess that is what Ryan meant (i.e. this policy applies to unauthorized illegal material) so there shouldn't be a problem with linking to preprints on author's site. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 31 '11 at 4:31

Policy modification: Replace "Users are discouraged from posting such links" in the original policy with "Such links should be removed".

  • $\begingroup$ If you remove the links, can't we still see them using the "history feature"? Isn't there a way to wipe them out altogether? Can the mods intervene? PS: I agree that removing the links is better than letting them be in place as they are. I'm just wondering about a better solution. $\endgroup$ – M.S. Dousti Jan 19 '11 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Sadeq: I don't think links staying in the previous versions can be a major problem. It is similar to Wikipedia, the previous versions can be read but people seldom read them. In extreme cases we can delete the post and that will make it only visible to the moderators and users with +10000 reputation. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 19 '11 at 13:30

Policy modification: Replace "Links to unauthorized and illegal online copies of copyrighted books" with "Links to copies of copyrighted books that are both unauthorized and illegal"

Rationale: The original phrase can be understood both as "unauthorized copies and illegal copies" (i.e. union) and as "copies that are unauthorized and illegel" (i.e. intersection). As per Kaveh's comment the latter is intended, hence the rephrasing.

  • $\begingroup$ I had already mentioned it in item 3 in the post but I will modify the original proposal and remove the "and" to make sure it is not ambiguous even when read alone. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 19 '11 at 13:32

If we are unable to come up with a reasonable phrasing of the policy, we could consider using the Wikipedia policy:

Certainly not perfect, but it would have already resolved the issue at hand.

  • $\begingroup$ This except from your second link is particularly relevant: "Knowingly and intentionally directing others to a site that violates copyright has been considered a form of contributory infringement in the United States (Intellectual Reserve v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry [1])." $\endgroup$ – Philip White Jan 20 '11 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ In general Wikipedia's policies are quite good, they seem to be well thought. The spirit of the SE sites are quite close to the spirit of Wikipedia (though there are differences also). I think having a FAQ entry linking to their policies can be helpful, say something like: This site is similar in spirit to Wikipedia and their policies are good general guidelines (though some of our policies might be different from theirs, please post a question on meta when in doubt). $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jan 21 '11 at 19:01

I think it should say something to the effect of that "illegal activity is strictly prohibited." Even if it's impossible to identify all illegal activity and enforce the rule completely, I think it would be smart just to make anything illegal against the rules...even if you can't specify what "illegal" means precisely. The burden of assessing whether or not something is illegal should fall on the person who is posting links or whatever else. If nothing else, this could protect the site from liability.

It might also be reasonable to suggest (as was mentioned in the other thread) that copyright claims be allowed; i.e., if someone sees a link that they believe is posted in violation of the law, they should be able to request that it be removed.


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