There was recently an answer on SO that I had flagged as Other because it contained a link to a website that illegally distributed copyrighted material (in this case, a book) and encouraged downloading the material.

I chose Other because there wasn't a flag category for illegal content. I logged in to SO the next day and noticed the answer was still there.

As it was explained in Possible illegal content linked on answer?, the Other queue is very long compared to other flag queues. Illegal content should be taken care of in an expedient manner, so I think there should be a flag category for it.

  • 6
    I may be wrong but there aren't those many "illegal links" posts' to warrant a separate flag type.
    – asheeshr
    Sep 5, 2013 at 3:06
  • 2
    One other thing you could do if the answer is otherwise useful is to edit the link to point at the publisher's page.
    – PeterJ
    Sep 5, 2013 at 3:25
  • @PeterJ Would not the link to illegal content still be visible in the edit history? Yours is an excellent suggestion aside from that concern
    – jdphenix
    Sep 5, 2013 at 3:26
  • In extreme cases you can ask the network to permanently remove the information from the revision history as well. I had this done earlier this year on dba.SE when a user accidentally posted their private contact details in a post and it survived the grace period.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Sep 5, 2013 at 3:44
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    @AsheeshR - As a point of reference, in the entire last year I've maybe handled only four or five flags like this. I've deleted more posts with links to bootlegged ebooks that I've found myself than ones that were flagged by others. Sep 5, 2013 at 5:02
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    Attempting to enforce 3rd party contracts may be unwise. If stack exchange starts to enforce the law (rather than its own rules) then it becomes liable to enforce the law. Most of these "illegal" questions are off topic for other reasons, close them for those reasons Sep 5, 2013 at 8:44
  • @RichardTingle I think this is the right answer, you might want to add it as such. Sep 5, 2013 at 8:45
  • Who says it is illegal to link to content? There is not sufficient precedent set to make this statement.
    – user7116
    Sep 5, 2013 at 13:17

3 Answers 3


While I am not a lawyer my understanding is that once we start to enforce any copyright restrictions we must enforce all copyright restrictions; that is we are no longer able to use the common carrier defence. At present as long as take down notices are responded to in a timely fashion Stack Exchange is not liable for the content created by its users, on the other hand if active policing occurs then Stack Exchange could be pre-emptively sued.

This is a highly related question in which the example of YouTube is used. YouTube was previously protected from being sued for the vast amount of copyright infringing material on its site because it never tried to vet it. Once they began vetting some of it they began to be sued for the material they missed.

The point is we are not the police and attempting to enforce our own (almost certainly wrong) interpretation of the law is dangerous. The vast majority of these posts are off topic for other reasons and should be closed for those reasons.

  • There is a massive difference between hosting infringing content and linking to infringing content. Hosting infringing content has plenty of precedent to state that you must take action. Linking to infringing content does not have enough precedent to where a concerted effort should be made.
    – user7116
    Sep 5, 2013 at 13:19

The way you deal with these is by casting a moderator flag with a custom description. Something like this:

This answer links to illegally distributed copyright material. Please delete.

Fortunately, it doesn't happen often enough to warrant a specific, system-recognized flag.

  • 1
    But these have the lowest priority in the queue and take the longest to get to. Sometimes days.
    – Cole Tobin
    Sep 5, 2013 at 4:32
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    @ColeJohnson - Not really. I know I focus on "other" flags myself. Spam / offensive ones jump to the top of the pile, of course, but everything else is broken out into its own category. The "other" flags that are taking so long to process now are basically close vote flags where people are trying to do an end-around on the close vote queue and go direct to moderators. If I came across an obvious case like the above while looking through the list, that would be easy to act on. This one by chance was just overlooked. Sep 5, 2013 at 4:48

You can kill a sparrow with a cannon. But no one produces cannons designed for killing sparrows. Wonder why?

If the question is useless without link, flag it as link-only answer.

If the question is complete, and link is only a reference, just edit the answer, changing the link to the name of the book. So everyone would be happy.

  • there is no "link-only" flag. Link-only answers should be commented upon or edited to quote said link. If the link is dead, only then it's not an answer. Sep 5, 2013 at 6:59
  • @JanDvorak I'm sure I've used 'this is link-only question' flag in review queue. Sep 5, 2013 at 7:03
  • @JanDvorak “Very low quality” now offers a good workflow for link-only answers: they are routed to a queue where users can recommend deletion (if 6 users agree, the post is deleted) and leave one of several canned comments including one that says not to post an answer consisting of only a link. Unfortunately, this workflow isn't advertised in any of the usual guidance. Sep 5, 2013 at 9:50

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