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I answered a legal question, with the usual disclaimer about not being a lawyer. My answer was not only down-voted for this, but, when I tried to discuss why it was down-voted, my comments were deleted, then my answer was deleted too.

I know we want to keep things on topic, but this was a perfectly valid answer to the question in my opinion, and the moderator was clearly being rude to me.

Should users refrain from providing opinions on legal questions, even where they are confident the answer is correct and helpful? I'm now afraid to do so in fear of zealous moderation.


Question text:

If I were to take the images from a Tumblr page, would that be considered legal?

Answer text:

I think, and I'm not a lawyer, that it is illegal in many countries.

There's obviously copyright law, so you need a license to copy each image before you scrape them. There's also some restrictions on accessing a computer you don't own, then using it in ways that the owner doesn't want you to. If my understanding is correct, then every website's terms of service are legally binding, as a contract you enter into automatically, but voluntarily, by accessing their property, their servers.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, and this is not something I really understand at all, but that's my take on it.

  • I think any answer would be OK as long as it complies with guidance explained here: "[...] real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions. ...Real questions... don't necessarily have practical answers, but they do have *authoritative* ones." Does your answer comply? – gnat Mar 12 '13 at 17:32
  • I thought it did. It validated itself with an appeal to common sense and simple logic. I didn't think it required legal expertise. It's an everyday problem for software developers. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:35
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    @CarlSmith And people disagreed with you. That happens, and it's not worth losing sleep over or getting as aggressive as you did. – yannis Mar 12 '13 at 17:38
  • You're right that I could have handled it much better. The timing of the various comments and so on made it seem like Caleb had strolled in, made a snide remark, down-voted me and then deleted my stuff. This really annoyed me, but I wanted to leave it so I just told him to piss off. I accept now that I shouldn't have been so quick to jump to conclusions, and I should've been more mature about it. It was just one of them moments. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 18:05
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    @CarlSmith the way I see it, presentation of your answer is pretty poor, that could be yet another cause of downvotes (like, people read and wonder what's the point - just because the point you try to make is buried too deep). By poor I mean, too much IANAL smoke-screen, and too bold coverage behind "not something I really understand... my take on it". Also, since you mention terms of service, it wouldn't hurt to quote an example of these, preferably from some typical well known website. "appeal to common sense and simple logic" isn't quite apparent in your text. – gnat Mar 12 '13 at 18:15
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I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.

and the moderator was clearly being rude to me.

I don't see where any of the moderators responded to you in anyway. The community users appeared to have downvoted your answer and commented on this, but they are not the moderators in that sense of the word.

We take rudeness very seriously around here so if you suspect you are being treated unfairly then please Flag for moderator attention and we will look into it.

I know we want to keep things on topic,

If you read the FAQ you will see that while license questions from a software developers perspective are on topic, general legal questions are not. The question itself is off topic and was removed promptly. This isn't your fault BTW.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, and this is not something I really understand at all, but that's my take on it.

So again referring to the FAQ, the first few sentences state that we are a Q&A site of experts for conceptual questions on software development. The voting and deletion system on answers to questions is designed such to promote expert answers to the top of the page and demote lower quality answers below, giving the reader the experience that is commonly missing from your typical discussion forum where the quickest and loudest answers get read first.

Above you clearly stated that you know very little of the legality, and while you have some valuable insight, your answer really can't and doesn't answer anything, despite the fact that the question was off topic to begin with. This is probably why you were downvoted.

Your input would have been better received in the form of a comment on the question, where some dialogue and discussion can take place.

  • Thank you for taking the time to respond at length. I did flag the comment for moderator attention, but it seems the moderators generally disagree with me on that particular issue anyway. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:53
  • Regarding expertise, the answer was as expert as it needed to be. I'm expert enough in web development to answer the question that was posed. I have no expertise in law, but that wasn't required here. If we can discuss software licenses without a law degree, why can't we discuss website terms of service? They seem to be as on topic as licensing for the same reasons. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:56
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Yes, you should refrain from providing opinions on any question, not just questions that touch on legal matters.

Programmers is a Q&A site, we expect answers to fully and directly answer the question, not just provide general opinions. Furthermore, preferably answers should be backed up by solid references, especially when they touch on topics that are outside our field of expertise.

I don't see how a moderator was rude to you, as no moderator commented on your answer. If anyone was rude, that was you, commentary like "piss off" is unacceptable. I get that downvotes can be frustrating, but people were talking the extra step and were trying to explain their downvotes, even though they are not obliged to do so. Your responses were unwarranted and I'd strongly advise you to keep a cooler head next time.

  • It wasn't a general opinion? It was an answer to the question. It was not uncertain or opinionated. It was an answer. I did include IANAL type disclaimers, but the answer was only an opinion insofar as any answer would have been an opinion. It was not subjective at all. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:38
  • The moderator, Caleb, quoted half a sentence of mine, totally out of context, then put me down for answering a question that required a disclaimer. That was my point here. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:40
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    @CarlSmith Caleb is a regular member of the community like yourself, he is not a moderator (we mods have diamonds next to our usernames). And you can't be absolutely certain that he downvoted your answer, not everyone that comments on a post also votes on it. I can understand that his comment may have rubbed you the wrong way, but it wasn't rude and you could have easily just ignored it. He was only asking why you were answering a question that you claim is on a topic you don't quite understand, that's a fair question. – yannis Mar 12 '13 at 17:44
  • My bad. I thought you needed to be a moderator to close an answer. I guess people misinterpreted my attempt at modesty as proof that the question required much more than a general familiarity with the law. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:51
  • @CarlSmith The question wasn't really suitable for the site anyway and it would have been deleted eventually (and your answer would have gone down with it, as, obviously, keeping answers without their questions wouldn't make sense). – yannis Mar 12 '13 at 17:53
  • Thanks for your patience. I have taken your input onboard All the best. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 18:06
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The question that you are asking about is this one, which is visible to users with enough reputation. You need 10k reputation (or be the asker) to see deleted questions.

First off, questions that require the expertise of a lawyer are off-topic here and will be closed and/or deleted. As a community of experts in software development, we can't answer most legal questions. Our FAQ makes an exception for software licenses since it's often expected that, as professionals, we'll be able to know if we can use a certain tool or library in our projects based on the license terms of the tool/library and our project.

Second, your answer says, quoting:

I think, and I'm not a lawyer...

...

Again, I'm not a lawyer, and this is not something I really understand at all, but that's my take on it.

So it's not surprising to me that you were down voted for this answer. Stack Exchange sites are designed to provide people with expert answers to their questions, not opinions or facts. By starting your answer with "I think" and ending it with "this is not something I really understand", your answer doesn't meet the criteria of an "expert answer".

Also, you shouldn't blame moderators for being rude to you. Members of the community vote on questions and answers. Anyone with 15 reputation can vote up and anyone with 125 rep can vote down. Moderators are here to keep the site clean and handle exceptional cases quickly. This particular question was on the receiving end of community disapproval (through close votes and down votes) as well as flags for immediate moderator attention. Because there is no way to salvage the question for the community, deletion was best for everyone involved.

  • I'm an Englishman. We have a tendency to downplay our assertions. I appreciate that this may come across badly to members of other cultures, but I never posted an opinion in the context you imply. Quoting my own disclaimers doesn't really address the fact that the answer I gave was a valid answer, and was a correct answer. If anything, I should have been told to be more assertive in future, and to avoid modesty. I don't mean to be argumentative, and I'm happy to move on now, but I really think this kind of superficial judgement harms the UX. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 17:47
  • Thanks for taking the time Thomas. I do appreciate it. Cheers. – Carl Smith Mar 12 '13 at 18:07

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