Questions like Can I change the caps to lowercase in licenses? and Do software patents for common formats (gif, mp3, h264) apply globally? are legal questions that impact open source software.

To what extent do we accept law questions?

2 Answers 2


Open source (etc.) is a about copyright. It's about law. To some extent, we have to take law questions, or we can't really discuss FLOSS. But we also, I think, do not want to take law questions that aren't really specific to open source. General law questions should be directed to Law Beta.

I think we also shouldn't take questions that ask for legal advice such as very specific "am I following the license?" questions. Two reasons: (1) normally that's supposed to be asked to a lawyer, and might be considered practice of law; and (2) questions that specific aren't going to help any future visitors.

Specifically with the two questions I pointed out:

  1. The shouting question is a general law one. It doesn't really have much to do with open source, almost all software licenses (including proprietary) read like that.

  2. The patent one is also a general law question.

  • 1
    Discussing nuances of open source regulations, I think, is an acceptable level of risk, whereas determining legality for specific conditions would be out of scope, but you know, IANAL. (+1 I agree) Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 18:23
  • Open source as a model which happens to use licensing at the moment. If copyright went away we would still have open-source.
    – ideasman42
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 23:27
  • @ideasman42 In that hypothetical world we'd have a different scope for the site (who knows, maybe there'd even be a new legal framework for open source) — but I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon.
    – derobert
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 23:37
  • Hey @derobert, I'm a Law mod. Just wanted to chime in and say that while questions ask for legal advice are probably going to be off-topic at Law (there's been on-and-off discussion about it, but it's leaning that way, subject to a meta post I've put up earlier today) if they're phrased impersonally, and don't appear to ask legal advice, then we would probably be able to answer them. Legal advice, apart from possibly being a target for UPL or malpractice claims, are probably too localised.
    – user931
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 1:09

I think that we should accept them up to a level that can be discussed by referring to the explanatory materials for the licenses involved - the GNU GPL FAQ and the OSI FAQ come to mind.

  • Any explanation for the downvotes? Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:47
  • Voting on meta just means "I agree" or "I disagree"; it's different than the main site. So the downvotes just mean two people disagree; it's nothing to worry about.
    – derobert
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 21:55
  • I can't speak for the downvoters but I wouldn't be surprised if their objection has to do with the implication that we should accept questions from people who didn't read those FAQ to begin with. (Not what I think you're suggesting.)
    – Air
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 22:16
  • 2
    I've been in licensing discussions with people who had read those FAQs, but either didn't understand them (and their questions would be on-topic is they write about that part of their research), or did think that the answers do not apply to their cases (likewise). Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 22:27

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