I stumbled across a question today that was right up my street: grabbing video from webofstories. If I were to paraphrase it it would be:

I want to download videos from a video streaming site that doesn't provide download links.

Everything about this is tailored for me. As part of ${DAYJOB} I do an amount of video streaming work. I know the ins, the outs and the otherwises of RTMP and I'm very familiar with the various utilities that allow you to download the content as I've used them for testing various encrypted setups.

My technical, helpful site took over and in about a minute I had an answer, including a full example on how to download one of their videos. I was about to click the submit button when I heard a voice in the back of my head asking some uncomfortable questions:

  • Are they allowed to do this?
  • Is it technically illegal to do this?
  • Am I allowed to show them how to do this?

The facts here are it's not an open license for the videos and the terms and conditions clearly state the only way they license the videos to you is via the website (and no other mechanism).

We nuke any question we see about people trying to circumvent DRM. It's illegal under the DMCA so it's not welcome here. This isn't the same as that but it is legally questionable.

More than that, I'm acutely aware of the costs of hosting and streaming video, especially through Amazon S3/Cloudfront. It's not a cheap CDN. This sort of question makes me uncomfortable on the level that if I give somebody a viable answer, they could very easily use a cheap home broadband connection to cost this company hundreds of dollars in extra streaming costs.

And what if this was a question about a site where all this was okay? An answer would be legally fine but it could easily be adapted for use on another site where it is against terms of service.


This is just one example and I'm already pretty conflicted about how we should deal with it. Part of me feels like it might be somebody just trying to do something and the other side feels like helping them is akin to teaching somebody how to most effectively graffiti a wall.

I'd like to hear what other people think about legally and morally questionable content. Please feel free to give examples (real or not) to illustrate your thoughts.

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"We nuke any question we see about people trying to circumvent DRM." Do we? What about playing DVD's on an Ubuntu system without proprietary software? –  Eliah Kagan Apr 21 '12 at 17:17
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“We nuke any question we see about people trying to circumvent DRM”: Can you point me to this policy, so I can vehemently oppose it and point people at Unix & Linux? –  Gilles Apr 25 '12 at 0:57

2 Answers 2

I am a stark believer in knowledge is power as I've carried on about before. However, I'm not lawyer and I can't say for certain, in fact I don't think many of us can say for certain if this violates DMCA. I* don't think it violates any laws, much like posting questions about "Sniffing WiFi passwords", or the formula for Crystal Methamphetamine, Pipe Bombs, and other such topics which exist on the the internet, but aren't illegal. The information isn't what's illegal, it's the act of doing so, and that's up to the user if they wish to execute it or not.

With proper warnings of "use best judgement" and "this is illegal in some countries" should suffice prior to the information being posted.

* I am not a lawyer, or providing any legal council as to the legitimacy of this claim. It is my belief and does not necessarily represent the views of Stack Exchange, or Stack Overflow.

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This doesn't seem like a copyright issue at all.

Suppose a service's terms of use say that, by using the site, you agree not to save permanent copies of videos on your computer. That is independent of the copyright status of the videos themselves. A website that hosts only free (as in freedom) videos could potentially say that, and might even have a motive to do so, if they wanted more people to go to their site and see advertisements.

So if this is about someone asking to do something that might violate a contract they have agreed to, consider:

  1. Have they really agreed to it, by using the service? Legally? Are we lawyers who are willing to make that judgment (and to work for free, for the for-profit web service, by making it)?
  2. Is that term of the contract binding and enforceable in this specific situation, for this specific person, in the relevant jurisdiction?
  3. Do we care? There is some sense--though it is heavily contested--that abiding by copyright law furthers the public good. But this isn't about the public good or the rights of authors and artists. This (in my example) is about a company getting ad revenue for redistributing other people's work. In the real world, how many video sites are there that have anything else as the motive behind their policies?

As an individual, you might decide not to answer some questions if you think people will use the answers in ways you don't like. As a community, we might decide to prohibit some well-defined classes of questions. But having a policy of not telling people how to do something that a reasonable person would suspect they might use to violate a contract? There seems to me no legal or moral argument in favor of such a policy, and no strategic advantage to our community of having one.

Suppose we decide we don't want to give people information that they're likely to use to commit an illegal act. That's irrelevant to this question, because while there is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement (at least in some countries), failing to abide by a civil contract is a tort, not a crime.

I deliberately answer some questions and not others to further my personal and political goals. But only in extreme cases would I try to keep other people from answering something because I wouldn't answer it myself.

(Like Marco Ceppi, I am not a lawyer.)

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Good answer. I'd expand on point #2 by saying that one could make a reasonable time-shifting argument. If we're allowed to record other types of broadcasting, why not Internet streaming? IANAL, of course. But the general point I'd make is that most people are not lawyers. And even ones that are, can be proven wrong, since you're never absolutely correct unless you can prove it in court. Given this, it seems silly for us to have to worry about this on a help site. –  Chan-Ho Suh Apr 21 '12 at 23:25

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