How should mods handle links to supposedly pirated software?
We delete it, right? But what if we don't know the legality of something?

We've been discussing this on Ask Ubuntu for the last week or so, and a specific example has the mods slightly split. Hiren's Boot CD is a bootable disk image that bundles a load of stuff for fixing your computer. It used to bundle tons of unlicensed software. It now just contains a handful of Microsoft-owned things, under different names. But piracy is piracy, right?

But how do moderators know it's pirated? How do we engage with things like this?

  1. Aaron posts posts a link to Oli's Boot CD
  2. Belle flags it for piracy
  3. Charlie ♦ doesn't know anything about Oli's Boot CD
  4. Dana ♦ is asked by Charlie ♦ to review, and finds copyright software in the changelog.

So we'd delete it, right? It's at this point one of my colleagues highlighted that we don't know—in this example—that Oli doesn't have a special redistribution license with the copyright owner. It might be completely legit. Oli certainly doesn't advertise the illegality.

You can take that to the nth, how do we know that The Pirate Bay doesn't have a redistribution license for all the things it links out to? You could certainly waste a lot of time working out the problem.

I see three options:

  • We spend an inordinate amount of time digging into every report. I mean, most stuff is sniff-testable, but compilation media like Hiren's is exhausting if you're not familiar with it.

  • Just delete everything reported and let the poster challenge it? Seems like a pathway to abuse.

  • Delete nothing until a copyright owner sues or uses a DMCA.

I don't want our site turning into the sort of toilet that naturally forms around pirate dumps, but at the same time I have to acknowledge that no moderator wants to spend hours trawling through sludge.

How should moderators handle such situations?

  • If we apply the assume good faith rule, wouldn't this limit the problem to only new posts, a bit like is done with spam? So if Aaron is a user in good standing, Belle shouldn't have flagged (maybe commented). If it is Aaron's first post and hour on the site and the network then investigate the hell out of anything that is flagged on that user. Not sure if this will scale on SO though.
    – rene
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 14:37
  • I think we have seen accidents with off-site image hosters where legit users were bombarded with rude/offensive flags because the image hoster was now controlled by a porn site and replaced all images with NSFW material.
    – rene
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 14:40
  • Related question (from me) on Meta Super User: Serial keys hidden in HTML comments - what to do?.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


It is not the job of a moderator to enforce copyright. As you already said, it's often difficult if not impossible to determine the legality. There is a process for this with the DMCA, and the moderators have no part in it.

But there are other reasons why you might want to remove the kind of link you mentioned. Downloading software from unofficial sources can be dangerous, and you might want to remove such links for that reason alone.

Ideally you would establish a site policy that software should only be linked from official and reasonably trustworthy sources, to ensure that users visiting the site are not exposed to potentially malicious software.

  • There already is the official SE policy that forbids linking to pirated content. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 20:34
  • 1
    @AndreaLazzarotto moderators don't enforce the ToS, we enforce the site rules. I'm not a lawyer, I can't properly read the legalese there. And anything important in the ToS is mirrored in some site rules anyway. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 21:25
  • 2
    @MadScientist Just be careful there. If you don't understand the terms, you shouldn't be a user, let alone a moderator. That's what the TOS says, anyway. The moderator agreement also includes legalese to protect users from moderators' access to personally identifiable information. It's important stuff that you have to have at least some understand of to agree to. By extension, I don't think it's unreasonable for a moderator to enforce the TOS if they see a clear breach affecting their site.
    – Oli
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 22:41

This is similar to whether the site should enforce third party NDAs, and the reasons it shouldn't are the same, so I'll just summarize here and you can go there to read the whole thing:


  1. Stack Exchange, Inc is not party to the copyright. These matters are already handled in the terms of service which places the burden on the user.
  2. Attempts to enforce another's copyright claim pre-emptively may put Stack Exchange in a bad legal position. If they police some of their content, they may be taken to court for failing to successfully police all of it. It's better in these cases to not act, and place the legal burden on the user's posting the content using the terms of service. This may extend to other content on the site itself, rather than just links as well.
  3. There is no way to determine infringement with surety. You'll delete items which have no copyright problem because of a perceived problem, and you'll leave things which are copyrighted. Keep in mind that copyright is different in different regions as well - what could be restricted due to copyright in one country might be permissible in another. Unless Stack Exchange or the moderators want to take up international law, and figure out where the servers are, and what the laws are for the users then you will most certainly be removing material that for some users isn't copyrighted.

I strongly suggest moderators remove such links only if they violate some other site rules or regulation. If the intent is meant to avoid becoming a link farm for piracy, they policies should reduce the types of questions and answers which elicit such links.

On top of this, we're talking about a link, not even the content itself. So this is one further step removed from possible copyright violations itself.


There's probably two aspects here - firstly, since Hiren's is a combination of tools atop a Windows "live" disk, it should be off-topic for AU. It's also worth thinking about the aspect of these answers often simply being a link or reference, rather than talking about using the said tool. These are handy reasons - low quality, since it sidesteps being copyright cops.

Also, it's Windows. shrug that's an excuse I can't use, but you can

I don't want our site turning into the sort of toilet that naturally forms around pirate dumps but at the same time I have to acknowledge that no moderator wants to spend hours trawling through sludge.

And this is probably why I prefer a minimum tolerance approach to this - that this sort of stuff piles up as people think it's fine, and it indirectly affects question quality. It's a bit like refusing service to people wearing flip flops. Or arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.

It's also worth remembering if you need to - there are parts of the TOS that indicate

"Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party, (b) reveals any trade secret, unless Subscriber owns the trade secret or has the owner’s permission to post it, (c) infringes any intellectual property right of another or the privacy or publicity rights of another,"

So it's kinda against the TOS.

But the quality argument is good enough most of the time.

  • 1
    AU gets a lot of dual-boot questions, so their windows tag is pretty active.
    – user315433
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 17:40

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