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I joined the site and took the tour and the first question I saw was one that was asking for a free product that offers premium service. I felt that any app that actually meets the description will be one that violates copyright law and it got me thinking, does this site allow such recommendations? So, I went through the Help Center, specifically the Answering and Asking sections but there was not any specific mention on the topic.

Upon searching the meta site, I found a question asked by @Bleeding Fingers some time ago. The top voted answer there seems to be leaning towards approving them. Yet, it was not accepted as an answer which leads to the question, what is the official stand of this site on questions/answers that involves recommendations or even links to using/downloading illegal/cracked software?

migrated from softwarerecs.stackexchange.com Aug 17 '15 at 19:27

This question came from our site for people seeking specific software recommendations.

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    The help center is not an exhaustive reference about the site, that's what meta is for. The help center is for the most common issues, of interest to new users. The suitability of “cracker/illegal” software is a complex topic (what's illegal here isn't illegal there, e.g. crypto, fair use). I don't think we can have a simple statement like “illegal software is ok” or “illegal software is not ok”: neither of these sentences is true. – Gilles Aug 17 '15 at 19:30
  • I can see your point but perhaps there can be a common ground? Say,suggesting that the asker tries a particular software which is not available for free provided no direct links are given. Whether they decide to try the software and then purchase it or attempt to crack it is beyond our control right? – zyten Aug 18 '15 at 10:10
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  • While not technically a duplicate of meta.softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/739/… Since that asks the question, but this just asks for the answers to be put on the help center. @Gilles has posted the answer to this question as a comment, and all current answers here, are actually answers to that question. It might need mod powers to move those answers? – Lyndon White Aug 20 '15 at 9:52
  • @Oxinabox: this IMHO is not a duplicate. This question focuses on asking directly for cracked software; the other question focues on asking about software that can be used to crack something. – Ira Baxter Jul 30 '16 at 8:24
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I would suggest that in general we should not be recommending hacked/stolen/cracked software as there are usually legal alternatives which are currently maintained for almost any task. Recommending "stolen" items can potentially both result in the site gaining a bad reputation and potentially, in some locations, have legal liability for the individual recommending such items.

Personally, where software is available in the public domain, i.e. is legal to download and use as far as the author is concerned but that I know may have restrictions in some locations, e.g. cryptography tools, I try to remember to mention in my answers that there may be legal restrictions in the end users location(s).

Obviously I do not, and cannot, know the legal restrictions in every country and in future times, keep in mind that the law can change at the drop of a hat, or by a few steps over a border, but hopefully our recommendations are here for a long time, so possibly a disclaimer on the "About Software Recommendations" section that it is, and always will be, the end users responsibility to check the legality of any software that they download, or purchase, in their own context would be a very good idea.

Specific examples would be:

  • Cryptography tools are outlawed in several countries
  • Using software that bypasses national firewalls can result in very severe penalties
  • Adding/installing software behind your employers firewall that introduced vulnerabilities to their systems can result in dismissal
  • Some employers do not allow any software installation on equipment that they provide that has not been specifically authorized by them.
  • Photographic/Graphic/Media resources that are considered acceptable or art in one country can cause big problems in another, e.g. things with political or religious content.
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    I agree with you. I too feel that there are almost always a freeware or an open source application or even a trial version for a premium software that can serve our needs except when we are looking for a software with very specific set of features in which case it is only just natural that we have to pay for it. Which is why I feel that on such cases, we avoid outright illegal suggestions such as, recommending a cracked version of a premium software. – zyten Aug 18 '15 at 10:19
  • Perhaps there should be a guideline stating that community members recommend the premium software with a link to a trial version if available, or straight to the vendor's homepage, avoiding any direct links to cracks/keygens. – zyten Aug 18 '15 at 10:19
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I'd flip that around.

Questions shouldn't really be explicitly asking for cracking software. Answers as such wouldn't need to recommend them.

If it goes down to whether its legal, chances are its gone.

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At large I go with Steve's answer here, but want to add a point it missed: morality. There might be software in a kind of "gray zone" (I don't have an example at hand), i.e. close to being illegal but not quite punishable by law.

I might recommend such (with a note/warning on the point) if the "catch" is Civil disobedience and I feel it's something we should stand up for. But I'd not recommend it if the catch is "harm" to someone else – e.g. cracks/keygens. Developing and maintaining software is a time consuming task (I know what I'm speaking of). If a person does that for a living, we shouldn't help robbing the butter off his/her bread – that's not only illegal, but also immoral (while the former might not be 100% legal, but highly moral :)).

  • While I know how much work maintaining software is, I have to disagree. One of my favorite games is no longer sold. While I have a copy, I can't play it anymore. Its a multiplayer game and every one needs a licence. So, what now? There is no legal way of obtaining that game and I can't share my licence (the game checks that). In such situations I would very much say that such questions are fine. Then there is the thing with reverse engineering, something that is illegal if you want to copy it, but legal if you want to port it to a different system. – Angelo Fuchs Aug 19 '15 at 8:28
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    Gray zone, @AngeloFuchs: In the first case, that you have obtained a license legally doesn't make it justifyable to "crack" one for Joe. In that situation, I would count it "gray zone" though (and not vote-to-close the question). Reverse-engineering is a two-fold blade as well, yes – but I doubt it's legal if you want to port it (unless the license holder agrees), if we're still speaking of that game. Something different would be if you reverse-engineer a protocol in order to write your own compatible client (thinking of Samba vs. MS-SMB-protocol like things). Difficult topic :) – Izzy Aug 19 '15 at 11:46
  • @Izzy Actually, reverse engineering for the purpose of interoperability (such as porting software to a different operating system or hardware) is always legal in France. I think that's the case in the US too: it's fair use. – Gilles Aug 19 '15 at 19:22
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    @Gilles Yeah, that's what I meant with "difficult topic": what's legal here isn't necessarily legal there … And from the morality point of view: if you've got a license for OS A, but switch to OS B (no longer have A), that should be fine :) – Izzy Aug 19 '15 at 19:24
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So here we have somebody explicitly asking for a cracked version. (This particular asker is now trying to justify this by claiming he will pay the author after the asker has made great profit using the cracked tool. Right).

It is one thing to ask for a legal, blessed by author, free version of software or a free, legal, blessed by author, equivalent artifact software.

It is altogether different to ask for cracked version. To claim disingenuously that such a version is legal in the user's country (I'm sure North Korea has blesses such theft esp. from its enemies) is immoral IMHO, and even if you buy such legalistic argument, does not get the author's blessing. In particular, cracked software explicitly does not have the author's blessing.

I think it really wrong for SR to allow such request at all, and I think such posts should be deleted immediately. My personal opinion is the account owner should be banned, too. (Suggesting the author that instead of asking for a murder he simply wish loudly his victim didn't exist anymore is not a good alternative).

There appears to me to be no specific policy choice here or agreement on penalty. How do we get past "wishy washy" some-votes-for-and-against to a clear position?

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