My question got closed as off-topic with the reason that it's "asking for advice on what to do":


I am trying to understand why, and if there is anything more I can do to salvage the question.

The link of the close comment links to this meta post on The Workplace:


I am not even sure why a Workplace meta post counts as a reason to close on Programmers, but I followed the advice there anyway:

Another alternative is to edit your post to ask about why and how you should make the decision, rather than just what decision to make. For instance, instead of asking "Should I take the job in the big multi-national company or the up-and-coming startup?" you could ask a question that will help you make that decision, like "How can I figure out the financial health of a startup I am applying to by asking questions in an interview?"

So I edited the question to not ask for what I should do, but for information that helps me make the decision myself. The question got closed anyway.

Also I am not sure that the reason for closure in the meta post even applies to me:

Our goal here at The Workplace is to help out people in the future who are facing the same problem. When people ask us for personalized advice, a lot of the specific details will not apply to other people who come across the question since their details may be slightly different and they can't determine whether or not the answer is appropriate for their situation.

The problem in the question is pretty generic and I tried to keep it general enough so that it will be helpful to people with a similar problem (customers asking for something that violates someone else's TOS).

Someone mentioned that it is a matter of legal advice, but that's only a part of the problem really. Also, there are many other questions with a similar direction that weren't closed for that reason, for example:

Is it possible to rewrite every line of an open source project in a slightly different way, and use it in a closed source project?

What to do if you find a vulnerability in a competitor's site?

Both of those questions handle legal topics as well, but are deemed on-topic.

  • Can someone explain to me why my question is off-topic?

  • Is there a chance to edit it so it could be reopened? If yes, in what way should I change the question?


To make my point, this question is both about a legal topic and asking what to do (and in relation to a client asking for something risky as well on top!), and still is on-topic:

Should I accept to write unsecure code if my employer requests me to do so?

I really have a hard time to see where the line is between on- and off-topic questions here to be honest.

  • 1
    as one who cast the original vote with a reason you refer, I can tell that original version of the question looked like very tight match to the type of issues outlined in the referred post at Workplace meta. Your edit to address this looked good to me - good enough to retract my votes close and down. However I am still not sure that the question is really okay, that's why I abstained of voting up and reopen
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 16:11
  • 1
    Regarding how a Workplace.SE meta post can be relevant: the vast majority of SE sites have very similar quality requirements and off-topic lists (e.g. product recommendations are almost universally off-topic, as is legal advice). The Q&A format is the same across the whole network, and with that format comes specific guidelines.
    – user22815
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


The question of:

What are the possible repercussions of developing an application for a customer that will violate the TOS of another company?

is one that is purely a legal one. The possible repercussions are whatever the lawyers at the company dream up.

As this is a legal question, it is not one that we, as programmers, can answer and is thus off topic under the category of 'legal assistance' as described in the help center.

  • Ok, if anything even remotely associated with legal topics is banned, I would totally understand it. But as I said, how come such a question is allowed then? I am just trying to understand where the line is here. And this is not a sole example mind you, there are many questions about legality on Programmers.
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:33
  • While the word 'legal' may appear in the question title and tags, the key question there is one of licensing one's own software which is something that programmers should have some familiarity with.
    – user40980
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:35
  • What about this one, that is both asking what to do and about a legal topic completely unrelated to licensing: Should I accept to write unsecure code if my employer requests me to do so? I am sorry, I fail to see any rule here, it seems completely arbitrary what gets closed and what doesn't.
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:41
  • 1
    I do want to thank you for finding these old legal questions. There are quite a few that were asked early on when the scope of the site was still in flux or have since fallen through the cracks. You would likely find it if you flag them for closure (off topic) that you will be getting those flags marked as helpful.
    – user40980
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:43
  • I understand your point that those are old questions that are no longer deemed on-topic, but I really did not have to look hard to find those examples and there are tons of it. Either you guys have a clean-up problem here, or the rules are arbitrary. :)
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:47
  • There is a lot of history to the cleanup problem that we have and are still contending with. It is hampered by the influx of "derp a text box" posts we get (yours was not of the derp version... but others are prevelant). This can make it difficult to go to and dig around old questions that might be off topic and cast close votes on them. Others were attempted to be closed back then but had close votes age out on them and its even harder to get them closed now (a bit on MSE on this).
    – user40980
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:53
  • Well, in that case I guess there is little I can do to salvage the question (aside from making a completely different question out of it). Thanks anyway.
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 15:03
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    @atticae that the question was closed gives it the opportunity to be fixed more eaisly. I would encourage you to stop into Software Engineering Chat (the whiteboard) if you want help refocusing the question on one of the answerable possibilities.
    – user40980
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 15:14

Can someone explain to me why my question is off-topic?

There are two big problems.

  1. We are not lawyers. That means we can't provide anything that even smells like legal advice without getting into legal trouble ourselves. Framing it as ethics doesn't help, since at it's core you're asking about the legal aspects.
  2. What you should do depends on you, your client, your jurisdiction, etc. Those sorts of questions are not great since they are not very helpful to future users.

Is there a chance to edit it so it could be reopened? If yes, in what way should I change the question?

I certainly think so. I'm not sure how though, there's a few different options that are fairly borderline. Focusing on how to deal with the problem from the perspective of a consultant/contractor might work, but it might not be what you want. We can't help you choose, but we can certainly help you fulfill your decision once you make it (how to tell client that you can't do something you think is legally questionable, how to get google results without violating TOS).

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