I've an interesting question for you all. I was giving some thought to possible site proposals on Area 51, and I had the idea to pose a proposal for a "Torrent Tracker Software and Management" Q&A site.
To quote Wikipedia:
A BitTorrent tracker is a server that assists in the communication between peers using the BitTorrent protocol. It is also, in the absence of extensions to the original protocol, the only major critical point, as clients are required to communicate with the tracker to initiate downloads. Clients that have already begun downloading also communicate with the tracker periodically to negotiate with newer peers and provide statistics; however, after the initial reception of peer data, peer communication can continue without a tracker.
This is a bit of a moral quandry to me. Would such a site be explicitly inappropriate for Stack Exchange? A site about tracker software would not explicitly be about piracy, but it might still be implied.
There have been, in the past, some interesting answers on the subject of piracy here on Stack Exchange:
With regards to the first question involving Limewire I have removed and cleaned up the comments and formatted the question. However there is nothing wrong with the question directly as the OP never refers to downloading illegal software, and I think it received a very good answer on top of it. I don't see any reason why the question should not be allowed, unless it explicitly encourages and suggest links to illegal software and warez — Diago
Close and flag these types of questions as too localized.
Yes, I know it's a bit of a contradiction. We do the same with copyright infringements; moderators are not equipped to deal with copyright claims (copyright claims should be directed at SE Corporate, in the form of a DMCA takedown notice), and routinely decline such flags. We do, however, close and delete such posts on the grounds that plagiarized content is not a good fit for the site.
The Stack Exchange Terms of Service expressly prohibit
Use of the Network or Services to violate the security of any computer network, crack passwords or security encryption codes, transfer or store illegal material including that are deemed threatening or obscene, or engage in any kind of illegal activity.
So if the user is asking how to download a pirated copy of Visual Studio, or tell others how to do it, as a moderator I would generally take action on that. I also would take action on questions that ask us to do something that clearly infringes on the rights of others, like asking us to help him hack a specific website.
However, the techniques for programmatically working with a Torrent or breaching website security are perfectly acceptable subjects on Stack Overflow. There's no way to police how someone uses the knowledge that they get here (there are perfectly legitimate uses for that information), and no way to know for sure whether they're telling the truth about how they're going to use that information anyway. — The Grinch
And then there's the Stack Exchange TOS:
Use of the Network or Services to violate the security of any computer network, crack passwords or security encryption codes, transfer or store illegal material including that are deemed threatening or obscene, or engage in any kind of illegal activity is expressly prohibited. Under no circumstances will Subscriber use the Network or the Service to (a) send unsolicited e-mails, bulk mail, spam or other materials to users of the Network or any other individual, (b) harass, threaten, stalk or abuse any person or party, including other users of the Network, (c) create a false identity or to impersonate another person, or (d) knowingly post any false, inaccurate or incomplete material.
It may also be noted that, while torrenting is often associated with piracy, it does have its legal uses. As an example, a variety of Linux distros (including Ubuntu) are freely and legally distributed via BitTorrent by the maintainers of said distros.
In summary, I would like to pose several questions here. They are:
- Is piracy too heavily implied for such a site to find an appropriate home here on Stack Exchange
- Would the risk of such a site outweigh any substantial reward that might be gained (i.e. would the (potential) users of such a site be so inclined towards promotion of piracy that the challenge of moderation would itself outweigh the benefits of the site)
- Are the moderators equipped to handle such a site?
- Is such a site against the Stack Exchange TOS or any other written/unwritten rules here on Stack Exchange.
Note: As it stands, I do not believe the scope is large enough or the audience is there for a site proposal. I am merely interested in the ethics here on Stack Exchange. I am neither promoting nor decrying piracy.
As noted by several users, BitTorrent does have its legal uses. While it is sometimes associated with piracy, it is not purely limited to illicit activities.
It may also be interesting to note that there exists, in beta, a Tor Stack Exchange site. While Tor is not associated with piracy, it can , in certain circles, be associated with other illicit activities. That being said, the Tor site has survived into beta and has not acted as, to quote @RobM "a magnet for those who are less scrupulous".