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In my search for an answer to a TOS question, I found many Google links that lead to SO. I posted my question and there was a lively debate until somebody shut it down as off topic. Fair enough, but looking at the post guidelines, it isn't actually clear if in fact such postings are prohibited.

The page on closed questions says that the following are okay:

  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

This seems vague at best, though it veers in the direction of "TOS questins are okay" in my mind.

On the other hand, flexo points out in the comments that TOS questions can never have a definitive answer and that any reply would be hearsay. On the other other hand, I can see a situation where somebody finds or knows of a situation or post that clears up the issue.

Disclosure: sour grapes

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Not really, by similar logic to meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/139804/… –  Ben Brocka Jul 20 '12 at 16:46
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Really it's a question that should be answered by a lawyer, not a programmer. There aren't a whole lot of people who do both professionally either. –  Servy Jul 20 '12 at 16:55
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@Servy How/where should one seek advice on such topics then? Individualized questions probably shouldn't be asked on any SE site, but I don't know how I should go about getting legal advice. Do I hire a lawyer? If so, I'm not sure if I can pay the fees. –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:11
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It's all fine and good to say that we can't have questions like this, but I think we need to provide some minor re-direct or advice or we'll just keep getting questions like this. We'll say, "No, don't do that here." and they'll just reply "Where else can I go?" until they get an answer. –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:12
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It's not the job of this website to help you find advice on every single topic of interest to humanity. If it's off topic here, it's enough for us to tell you: "It's off topic here". If somebody asked whether his bank was fair in charging him X amount per transaction fee, we would not feel obligated to help him find a forum on banks. –  meagar Jul 20 '12 at 17:16
    
I wouldn't think that SE as a network should be designed to tell someone where any particular question that can ever be though of should be asked. I wouldn't come to SE asking for where I should go to find a good plumber or for a trustworthy real-estate agent. We know programming, and what we can't answer we can't answer. –  Servy Jul 20 '12 at 17:16
    
All right, that's good enough for me. It's just that the legal system here is pretty murky, even to the best of us. If I ever have legal questions, I'll probably just find a lawyer or something. –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:18
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Keep in mind you need to compare the cost of paying a lawyer to what you could potentially lose for being sued for doing something wrong. Sometimes it's too expensive to not pay for a lawyer. –  Servy Jul 20 '12 at 17:20
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your question is about the legality of using a photo. This is immediately a good indication that it's off-topic for Stack Overflow. If it were about the legality of using a piece of software, you might have a case, but you shouldn't be seeking legal advice from a community of programmers who do not profess to have any special understanding of the law beyond that of the general populace.

This would be just as (in)appropriate to ask on Superuser or Serverfault or Webapps: None of these sites profess to have any understanding of copyright law.

The page on closed questions says that the following are okay:

  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

This seems vague at best, though it veers in the direction of "TOS questins are okay" in my mind.

Under which of those categories do you think your question falls? It's certainly not about tools, so do you consider it "practical, answerable and unique to the programming profession"? As a programmer, I can tell you that not only is a knowledge of copyright law not unique the programming field, it is mostly nonexistent within the programming field. At best you can hope to find somebody who happens to have a reasonable knowledge. At worst, you're going to get completely wrong advice.

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