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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!

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    Not all people agree with your statement that "disclaimers that people use carry importance". See revision 2 of opensource.stackexchange.com/revisions/6284/2 – airfishey Dec 6 '17 at 21:58
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    @airfishey So... "technically" stuff like this is rectified through the actual CC licence and the terms of use and so on... It's more of a comfort thing. When I first put this out there, I remember being asked about disclaimers since we do dive into a few legal things here. We had also put it through the community team here at SE, but this was sooo long ago I don't even know anymore... :P – Zizouz212 Dec 9 '17 at 3:17
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Do "IANAL" acronym-style disclaimers even do anything? Are they effective?

Meh, I'm not a lawyer so I can't evaluate this properly. Some material I've read suggests that the problem is not (solely) that people think you are a lawyer, but that even if they know you are not, providing legal advice is practicing law without a license. But in the spirit of not taking advice from armchair non-lawyers, we should probably ask Stack Exchange to provide us with some kind of recommendation here rather than trying to figure it out on our own.

Does the larger presence of acronyms in posts start to clutter them? [...] Will they be understood, and will they lower the quality of posts on the site?

Yes. Not by everyone. Yes.

Are people really concerned with themselves providing an answer, or someone else interpreting the answer as legal advice?

A little from column A and a little from column B.

So, my suggestions:

  1. Add a banner, somewhere prominently visible to new and returning users, that reminds people not to take advice from random strangers on the internet in cases where they actually need that advice to be correct. The text of this banner should be drafted by real lawyers, not by us.
  2. Aggressively close any questions where it is obvious the OP is asking about a real scenario in which they need to talk to a lawyer (e.g. "my company wants to do thing X with project Y, does license Z allow this?"). Continue to allow purely hypothetical questions about how licenses operate in theory.
  3. Gradually phase out the acronyms and other detritus in cases where they are redundant to the disclaimer added in (1).
  4. If necessary, create a new off-topic close reason for (2).
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    I disagree with the second suggestion. I often post questions such as "my company wants to do thing X with project Y, does license Z allow this?", either hypothetical or because I am really evaluating the current situation and checking our options. – Nicolas Raoul Oct 18 '16 at 4:12
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    @NicolasRaoul: I certainly hope you aren't taking or refraining from taking real-world action on the basis of advice from random internet strangers. That sounds like a horrible idea. – Kevin Oct 18 '16 at 4:19
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    I would not be here if this site had zero impact on my real-world actions. For instance, believe it or not, I took a decision based on the answers to that question: opensource.stackexchange.com/q/226 – Nicolas Raoul Oct 18 '16 at 4:29
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    The other issue is that Stack Exchange is a discoverable medium unprotected by attorney-client privilege. You should assume that any question you ask on this site could be used against you in a court of law. Your company's lawyers won't be pleased with that. – Kevin Oct 19 '16 at 2:18
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I just wanted to highlight this portion from Kevin's answer so others can upvote this suggestion specifically...

Add a banner, somewhere prominently visible to new and returning users, that reminds people not to take advice from random strangers on the internet in cases where they actually need that advice to be correct. The text of this banner should be drafted by real lawyers, not by us.

This is what they do at Law Stack Exchange, for example:

https://law.stackexchange.com/questions/13162/how-does-contributing-to-a-floss-project-work-from-a-legal-perspective

Example from Law Stack Exchange with red circle scrawled around their banner

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    I feel as if I recall other sites getting asking for disclaimers and subsequently being said no. These are sites dedicated to licensed professions - Engineering SE was one of them I believe - yet they still didn't get one. For a site that only "touches" into pure law, I'm not sure such a thing would necessarily be greeted with much success. – Zizouz212 Oct 27 '16 at 1:05
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Do "IANAL" acronym-style disclaimers even do anything?

What is legal advice?

Examples that do not constitute actual legal advice:
...
- Responses to legal questions posted in online Q&A boards, even if provided by a licensed attorney

If that's true, then it seems like there is no legal reason for TINLA.

From your quote:

...there is no presumption in any jurisdiction that I am aware of that anyone is or is not a lawyer...

If that's true, then it seems like there is no legal reason for IANAL.

Of course IANAL... ;-]

While it's considerate to anticipate someone making dangerous assumptions,
it seems cleaner and more efficient for the website to be informing readers.

You could have new users read something short and to the point that they need to acknowledge they have read. I would offer the following information:

  • Responses to legal questions posted in online Q&A boards, even if provided by a licensed attorney, are not legal advice.

  • Be careful about making assumptions, especially in legal affairs.

  • Find alternative sources of information; upvotes don't count as verification.

For anyone not logged in you could show the information directly above the answer section.

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    downvoted because I don't think acknowledgement is required, see Law Stack Exchange – david.libremone Oct 14 '16 at 14:45
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    @d3vid I would prefer reading the information once and then never seeing it again (as a registered user). – Honest Abe Oct 14 '16 at 16:39
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I think that any disclaimer is not really needed but a site-level disclaimer would be ok.

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