The answers to this question suggests they are on topic, sometimes. However, the Help Center "on topic" page does not state this type of question is acceptable, and explicitly states that "legal advice or aid" - which I would assume licensing questions would fall under - is off-topic.

Furthermore, other sites on the Stack Exchange network have conflicting or outdated information that makes this even more confusing.

My suggestion:

  • If software licensing questions are allowed here, please update the "on topic" page to explicitly include them in the list of allowed question types, with any provisos as to when they may be asked.
  • If such questions are not allowed here, please update the "on topic" page to include this in the list of off-topic questions; I would amend the last item to read "legal advice (including licensing questions) or aid".

And yes, I appreciate this may be considered a dupe of Reconciling "no legal advice" and "yes software licensing", but the "canonical" question that that question links to (When is a software licensing question on topic?) also refers to items in the "on topic" FAQ that no longer exist.

  • 1
    I was going to ask the same question after eating 4 downvotes, 5 close votes and 2 delete votes on a question I asked less than 10 hours ago… I believed it was on-topic as the licensing tag contains over 1000 questions. Commented May 18, 2017 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


The reason why it's no longer in the Help Center is two-fold.

First, it was too hard to explain. I think we tried two or three variants of the statements around software licensing in the Help Center. Quite simply - there's a lot of good questions that are beyond the scope of this site and there was no good, clear, concise way to explain how to decide if your question was on or off topic.

Second, Open Source and Law have demonstrated a much higher quality of answers to a number of questions about software licensing. Law has also demonstrated an ability to answer other types of intellectual property law questions that involve software.

When we last rewrote the Help Center, the community couldn't come to a clear consensus as to if licensing questions should be or should not be on-topic here. As such, we simply left it off the Help Center. We wanted to make the Help Center promote the topics that we felt most important to promote while reducing ambiguity and verbosity. The Help Center is not an exhaustive list of every topic that is on-topic here, but is guidance for evaluating the likely topicality of a question.

When I moderate, I tend to decline flags that state that open source licensing questions are off-topic, unless they are outside of the experience of a software engineer and require the experience of a lawyer (in which case I'd migrate to Law) or are about open source culture, history, communities, or license selection (in which case I'd migrate to Open Source). In both cases, I'd assess the question quality before migrating (see don't migrate crap). The only exception is if the original asker flags their question for migration to either Open Source or Law, in which case I'll also consider it for migration.

For the record, I was a proponent of including software licensing in the scope originally, but no longer am due to Law (and Open Source).

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    I agree. When I see license questions lately I almost always attempt to migrate it to Open Source or Law. I won't say it is off topic necessarily, it is in that gray area
    – maple_shaft Mod
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:07
  • As a side note, in Revisiting what is on topic, with respect to new sites: Open Source, Law, and Software Recommendations, the most upvoted answer is against making software licensing questions off topic. Commented May 18, 2017 at 17:42
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    I'd be very much in favour of completely dropping licensing from our scope. While legal aspects certainly are a part of software engineering, we could only answer the most simple questions here. And anecdotally, most questions are not so simple. Even “simple” questions about open source licenses sometimes have thorny edge cases, making answers here most likely wrong. We just don't have the expert community for that.
    – amon
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 6:52
  • 1
    Outright declaring all license related questons off topic could hinder real day-to-day software related questions that aren' legality based. An example might be: how does one best manage the bookkeeping of OSS licensing and the requirements of embedded OSS libs as part of build and deployment for auditing and developer sanity in orgs who care? Commented May 23, 2017 at 23:29
  • So let's be clear now: are they on topic any more or not? Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 3:55
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    @whatsisname I think it's pretty clear. Some licensing questions are on-topic. Questions that require the expertise of a lawyer are off-topic. Questions about open source history or culture are off-topic. Questions about choosing or recommending a license are off-topic. Questions about non-standard or custom licenses are off-topic. Questions about writing your own license are off-topic. Questions about understanding or complying with an existing, well known license are on-topic. However, I would strongly encourage anyone asking about licensing to check out Law or Open Source first.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 8:47

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