I ran across this comment on the main site.

This site is about projects published under a license that meets either the Free Software Definition or the Open Source Definition (which are nearly equivalent.) This site is not about freeware or source visible projects which do not meet the FSD or OSD. I understand that you want a source visible license, but the community has decided that is off-topic. But if you ask in Open Source Chat someone might still be able to help you.

This seems to be just a bit off to me. If the community agrees that freeware & source visible questions are off topic, so be it, but I personally don't see a reason why they should be. Can anyone justify this?

2 Answers 2


This site, from the very beginning, has always been about the Free and Open Source movement, as marked out by the Free Software Definition and the Open Source Definition. We allow questions about the intersection of FLOSS and non-FLOSS stuff (questions about linking, dual-licensing, etc.) but questions entirely outside the FLOSS freedoms are off-topic.

The one exception has been the non-Free CC licenses, because they form such a clearly defined family with the free CC licences, so some CC BY-ND or CC BY-NC questions are allowed. This exception is up for debate, but no one except for the occasional new user who misunderstands the official meanings of Free and Open has argued that this site should become a general licensing site. (There's also the fact that the FSF endorses the CC BY-ND for works stating a viewpoint).

Here are past questions we have closed as being off-topic because they're about non-Free/non-Open licensing:

Btw, this is why I still think that the site should be renamed to "Free & Open" - it would highlight that this site is about the movement build on the foundation of those two definitions.


curiousdannii has done a good job explaining that this site is about the FLOSS community, including history, philosophy, and cultural norms. We accept licensing question only insofar as they fit in with the site's scope of FLOSS in general.

Part of what practically distinguishes us from http://law.stackexchange.com is that many open-source licensing questions can be answered without any legal background, simply because FLOSS licenses usually have have extensive public FAQs. When you're answering a question about an open source license, the first thing you reference, usually, is the official word from the creators of the license (e.g., the GPL FAQ, Apache FAQ) and then jump into legal mechanics if the question is too nuanced to have been already addressed. This is not an accident. Tying in with the paragraph above, it is strong cultural norm in the FLOSS world for license authors to provide extensive, plain-English explanations of free and open licenses, which is by no means a norm in the world of licensing in general.

Helping people understand what FLOSS licenses allow and require is a tradition of the FLOSS subculture; it is a tradition that began before this site existed, and which the site's users now participate in. When we answer questions about FLOSS licenses, we also consider the publicly stated intent of the author (e.g., "the text of this GPL section might be understood by a judge as causing either X or Y, but the spirit of the GPL is clearly X"). When we answer licensing questions, we can directly contact the license authors and get back prompt replies, because they are interested in having their licenses clearly understood.

We could expand our scope to include all licensing questions, or include, somewhat arbitrarily, questions about licenses which allow recipients visibility of the source code (non-free "source available" arrangements), but I don't see any benefit to doing either. With the first option, we'd be directly competing with Law Stack Exchange, and with the second option, why should we choose to draw an arbitrary line at only licenses that allow recipients to read source code? What's the point of that? There's no specifically identifiable community that would be better served by that arrangement, whereas our current arrangement serves a very well-defined community.

  • 1
    But this site isn't about licensing. Despite the large number of licensing questions.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 1:06
  • 4
    @RubberDuck Yes, I agree! I had hoped that my entire answer made that clear; I see by your response that perhaps it didn't. The intent of my answer is: we are a site about FLOSS, which also includes FLOSS licensing. The latter paragraphs are about why, when we answer questions about licensing, we're doing so as participants in (or, at minimum, observers of) the FLOSS community. Our approach to answering questions about licensing is unavoidably shaped by the norms and intents of the FLOSS community. Fielding licensing questions outside the scope of FLOSS would flout this entire notion.
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 1:10

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