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What is our stance on questions that can be used for legal and illegal purposes? Are they on-topic or off-topic?

The other Stack Exchange websites that I am aware of where this issue has been discussed have the following policy: ~ "we are not lawyer, if in doubt, leave it Stack Exchange employees to decide':

Do we want to add some additional self-censhorship on Academia Stack Exchange?


Example 0: Ways to get free and legal access to research papers as a researcher : "legal" depends on the jurisdiction, and as a result some legal methods could be illegal in some places.

Example 1: How often do publishers sue researchers for copyright infringement for putting their articles on a personal website? -> knowing the answer could motivate researchers to violate copyright laws.

Example 2: Where can I obtain the content of closed MOOCs? -> knowing the answer could motivate students to obtain educational materials, which in some cases could be illegal.

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    Just for context, this question was mostly predicated by this recent question. – eykanal Aug 15 '16 at 16:55
  • Personally, I think that the results of those discussions are just a way to wash one's hands of it. Not being a lawyer doesn't justify the ignorance of a law, at least in one's country, if a law affects one's profession. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 15 '16 at 19:58
  • @MassimoOrtolano the law that applies may differ from the one in your jurisdiction. – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 15 '16 at 20:01
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    @FranckDernoncourt What I think is that questions of the type: "Is it legal to do X in country Y?" are ok, but questions on how to do X, when X is borderline should be closed. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 15 '16 at 20:14
  • @MassimoOrtolano Why do you say borderline? Isn't an action either legal or illegal? Also, why being more restrictive than the law? – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 15 '16 at 20:16
  • Borderline because it's legal in one country and illegal in another one. The "how to" changes a lot. It's like asking: "Where can I find weed?". The answer changes a lot from Colorado, where it's legal, to my hometown, where it's illegal – Massimo Ortolano Aug 15 '16 at 20:24
  • @MassimoOrtolano I see, thanks for the clarification. Then I disagree that we should ban questions that are valid in some countries. Why being more restrictive than the law? – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 15 '16 at 20:28
  • Because in countries where it's illegal, we're aiding illegal action by telling them how to do it. If the action itself is merely the topic around the question and legality the subject of the question, discussing this generally is fine. When how to perform the action is itself the subject, that's the problem, as Massimo already said. – Nij Aug 17 '16 at 10:18
  • @Nij: So we should close a question each time it is asks for something that may be illegal in one country? – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 17 '16 at 14:43
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    I asked about legality over at TGO.se and to an extent it was asked about at expats.se – StrongBad Aug 17 '16 at 15:34
  • @StrongBad Thanks. I guess at that point we should distinguish purely illegal (e.g., illegally enter a country) vs. can be used for legal and illegal purposes. – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 17 '16 at 15:43
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I am not a lawyer and I don't particularly care about the law. I like to live in my little bubble and believe that if I act ethically and responsibly that I will stay out of trouble.

I believe that in order to be found guilty in the US of aiding and abetting a crime, that you have to being knowingly facilitating a crime. I am hesitant to provide answers that will likely be used to break the law, even if there is a technically legal way of using the information. Therefore, I think questions about primarily illegal activities should be closed. This is obviously a gray area and may sometimes lead to disagreements. As I said, I am not a lawyer and all this could be wrong from a legal vantage.

As for the example questions:

Ways to get free and legal access to research papers as a researcher is asking for legal access. My limited understanding of US law is that distributing copyrighted material without permission is illegal, but downloading material is not illegal. I would therefore say that this question is fine from a legal vantage, but I don't like it because it seems like a big list (although your answer is nice).

How often do publishers sue researchers for copyright infringement for putting their articles on a personal website? is asking for stats. I don't particularly like this question. It is hard for me to see how the answers would be useful. If I was forced to list reasons that an answer might be useful, I think I would probably come up with illegal activities, and therefore maybe it should be closed.

Where can I obtain the content of closed MOOCs? is again a bad question in my mind (I am not trying to pick on you) because it seems like a big list question to me. As the question is not about sharing, but downloading, I think it falls into the same category as the first example question.

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    In the three examples given in the question, which ones do you consider as primarily illegal (if any)? – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 17 '16 at 16:10
  • @FranckDernoncourt see edit – StrongBad Aug 17 '16 at 16:26
  • Thanks. Why not leaving the question open for people to exchange information that can be used legally in the jurisdiction where they reside? Also, for the last question, should it be closed because it's a list, or because of those legal issues? – Franck Dernoncourt Aug 17 '16 at 17:05

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