This is a bit of a follow up from this Open Source meta post. You don't have to read it, though you can if you'd like some background - but everything is covered here as well. I also meant to write this up a long while back, but if you don't mind, I'll present my last year of school as an excuse :P
A long while back, there was a bit of talk over the use of acronym disclaimers (e.g. IANAL - I am not a lawyer) that were starting to gain momentum in numerous answers over the site. Some of them were acronyms, like the classic IANAL, or things that are more wordy such as in this post.
Open Source has a foundation on software licenses, and it involves a lot of law. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable here, while making clear to people what the law is, and why they shouldn't use an answer as the basis for a big legal decision.
To quote Dale M in this Law Stack Exchange answer:
First, there is no presumption in any jurisdiction that I am aware of that anyone is or is not a lawyer (or doctor, or engineer etc.). If people knew that you were, however, then it is reasonable that they would give your statements more weight then if they did not know. It may also be reasonable if they suspected you were. The practical purpose of such a disclaimer is to ensure that they know you aren't.
For the specific facts you give, you would certainly be in a better position if you said: "But I'm not a lawyer, so you should seek professional advice"; not so much because you told them you weren't a lawyer but rather because this changes your advice to "seek professional advice". It's impossible to be wrong with that advice!
The disclaimers that people use carry importance, and we're not attempting to dispute that. However, we were somewhat concerned with a few things:
- Do "IANAL" acronym-style disclaimers even do anything? Are they effective?
- Does the larger presence of acronyms in posts start to clutter them? Personally, I believe that posts should be clear of short forms, and be clear and professional. Will they be understood, and will they lower the quality of posts on the site?
- Are people really concerned with themselves providing an answer, or someone else interpreting the answer as legal advice?
We want to help.
So we're asking, what can we do to help solve all of this? Think of anything, be creative!