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Most of the answers to legal questions here are prefixed with "I'm not a lawyer, but..." I'm beginning to think that including "software law" as on-topic is way too broad, and opens the door to copyright, patent, and trademark issues that most programmers have never had to deal with. In fact, I would suspect most of us work in companies with legal departments that handle that kind of stuff with and/or for us.

There are some things that we deal with more frequently, though. These are things like ethics and specific aspects of the law such as licensing (frequently seen when you want to release a project under some conditions and need to find a license, or need to know what you can/can't do with software under a particular license).

Could we perhaps fine-tune "software law" in the FAQ to explicitly include and exclude certain topics? I know there isn't a more suitable Stack Exchange open yet, but it's just that no one here is really qualified to answer a lot of these questions in a helpful manner. And it doesn't help that the answers would also be dependent on locale as well.

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Yes, because that term is way too broad. When we speak of legal issues surrounding software, we're talking about:

  • Copyright
  • Trademark
  • Patents
  • Licenses

Any other type of legal issue would (probably) be a bit too localized for the site. While we aren't lawyers, some of us do deal with legal issues surrounding software on a very frequent basis, so I think there's some value in the experience that could be shared.

However, "My client stole my code and isn't paying, what do I do?" would conceivably fall into "Software Law", so I agree that it should be much more specific.

  • I think that patents might be too out-of-scope because of the various concerns involved from a legal standpoint. I would say licenses are definitely on-topic, but we need to talk about copyright and trademark and come to some kind of decision as a community. For some things, I agree that there are people out there who have experiences that would be valuable. But do we have enough people with those experiences who are actively sharing them? – Thomas Owens Aug 9 '11 at 15:30
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    @Thomas Owens - I think we do, even if the question sits for a few days until being answered. Regarding patents, I'm kind of torn. On the one hand, I don't want to document willful infringement by saying "Ayup, you are violating xyz and now you know that", on the other hand, I don't see the harm in helping someone narrow down a patent search, or answer questions regarding them that don't directly relate to an identifiable product. – Tim Post Aug 9 '11 at 15:39
  • Definitly. Narrowing down what is/isn't on-topic, even within these areas is important. Such as where in patent questions do we draw the line? Plus, if a law Stack Exchange opens, these need to be revisited. – Thomas Owens Aug 9 '11 at 15:41
  • @Thomas Owens - Agreed, and this is definitely a testament to the useless ick we (or some of us) have to deal with day in and day out. – Tim Post Aug 9 '11 at 15:57
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    Especially for open source licenses there are some people with good knowledge. maybe the oss part of this subject could get its own tag. – thorsten müller Aug 9 '11 at 19:36
  • @Thomas: A 'Law SE'? You mean as in: professional lawyers giving advice for FREE? – thorsten müller Aug 9 '11 at 19:37
  • @thorsten Professional not-a-lawyers giving advice for free. ;) – Adam Lear Aug 9 '11 at 20:24
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OK, I made this change -- any of the diamond mods could have done it as well, of course....

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    I think we were still waiting to see if any dissenting opinions showed up. Still, this works for me. Thanks, Jeff! – Adam Lear Aug 12 '11 at 1:31

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