Questions concerning the comprehension of clauses specific to licenses, might be considered to be off-topic as asking for legal advice. Should we allow these sorts of questions?

For example:

What does this clause from the Apache license mean?

3 Answers 3


Yes but,

we should ideally make it clear that we're not providing legal advice, we are merely explaining (or attempting to do so) what is meant by a certain phrase or clause. We might even point at how this clause has been interpreted in court in certain cases.

But we are certainly not advising on what to do in specific situations because:

  • That is too localized for SE.
  • We can not be held accountable for our advice!

If people want legal advice, they should go to a lawyer; if they want help understanding something, they can come to us. If what they ask is treading into legal advice territory, you can still answer what you can answer but be sure to explain the difference between an explanation and legal advice and if necessary, suggest they approach a lawyer.

If you see users on the site handing out legal advice, mention in the comments that this should not be taken as such.

  • Maybe such IANAL/TINLA should be automatically placed below each question on this site with link to more detailed explanation? it gets really tiresome aftet sone time to prepend each answer with it... Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 11:56

Yes we should. The Law site doesn't allow legal advice questions, and neither should we, but they do allow questions that ask for a legal explanation. Legal advice questions are really a specific example of the too-localised close reason that used to exist. Your example question is perfectly appropriate for this site.


Yes, but ...

... explicit and implicit requests for legal advice (including license comprehension questions) should be considered off-topic and closed. In addition to us not being lawyers, a (hypothetical) lawyer will not get good enough insight in specifics of a case through a 20+ line or so question to give any meaningful advice. So we need to actively discourage questions asking for legal advice directly or indirectly.

That being said, questions that asks about general legal principles (including license comprehension questions) can often be meaningfully answered. They just can't be answered conclusively.

For instance, if there is license comprehension questions involving some use case that is legally contested or entangled, a helpful answer may just point out the complexities involved, and maybe also say that a lawyer should be hired, or the copyright owner consulted, if a more specific answer is needed.

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