The Tag

I ran across a specific question today that prompted me to ask why we have a tag at all when its tag wiki currently says:

Excerpt: Don't use this tag to ask for legal advice.

and its definition says:

Do not use Stack Overflow to request individualized legal advice.

I fully understand why we discourage licensing questions on SO, and why we shouldn't be in the business of offering advice on licensing issues. With that in mind:

  1. Why do we have the tag at all, if such questions are discouraged?
  2. Under what circumstances could a question tagged with possibly be on-topic?

Not a duplicate because...

None of the related questions explain why we keep this tag around, or provide a satisfactory answer to how the tag can be constructively used. Specifically, Are licensing questions on- or off-topic on SO? is not an exact duplicate of this question, and does nothing to explain why we don't burninate the tag.

  • You're asking two questions here, and the post you link to completely covers one of them. I suggest you edit your question to focus on the tag angle. Jul 14, 2012 at 18:18
  • 2
    A better question: what should we do with tags that cover concepts that are off-topic on a site? Jul 14, 2012 at 18:25
  • Are you sure your linked question is not a duplicated? My answer there gives two types of licensing questions that could be considered on-topic, and therefore by extension covers why the tag can exist. Jul 16, 2012 at 14:25
  • @JoelCoehoorn Positive. While your answer is related, the question is not a duplicate. You have to read the other person's whole question carefully; the OPs real question there asks: "So my question is, are they off-topic? [If s]o, do I need to close my question as off-topic?"
    – CodeGnome
    Jul 16, 2012 at 14:30
  • Okay, I'll leave it for now... but you're walking a fine line here, as there's a lot of overlap. My main concern is that it still seems to me like any answer to that question is valid answer to this one as well. Jul 16, 2012 at 14:32
  • @JoelCoehoorn Please take a look at the close options for questions. None of them say "Some other answer overlaps or is somewhat related." They ask if a question is an exact duplicate. This one isn't.
    – CodeGnome
    Jul 16, 2012 at 14:35
  • Answer overlaps are part of how we have come to define "exact duplicate." Jul 16, 2012 at 14:36
  • @JoelCoehoorn: meta.stackexchange.com/q/139961
    – user102937
    Jul 16, 2012 at 16:07
  • 1
    Why was this question migrated to MSE and closed as off-topic, instead of kept on MSO where it is on-topic?
    – tripleee
    May 3, 2016 at 4:32

2 Answers 2


Problem Analysis

I'm pretty confident that a large part of the problem is that the tag wiki, as written, is a definition of licensing rather than an elevator pitch for how the tag should be used on the site. This is a common issue with many tags on the site; it just so happens that this one caught my eye.

A Practical Solution

Rather than let the philosophunculists split hairs about it, I took some concrete action. I just posted an edit that makes it clear that licensing is about the programming side of licensing, rather than the legal side.

If approved, the excerpt will read:

This tag should be used for questions about software that provides licensing services, such as a licensing server or client. Don't use this tag to ask for legal advice about licensing.

The rest of the tag wiki has been updated accordingly, and now includes some on-topic and off-topic examples as guidelines. The wiki would certainly benefit from some active editing to provide additional examples of on-topic questions, if anyone is so inclined.


I don't think that any special rules apply to licensing.

A pure licensing question is off topic, same as any question purely about Unicode, Internet, or Google Calendar, all of which have useful tags at SO.

What makes a licensing question on topic is at least one clear ingredient out of the following list, like with any other question:

I tried to link one example of each category that I believe is a meaningful and on-topic use of the tag. One could similarly put forward examples of on topic and off topic questions adorned by some other tags we have.

Licensing has especially poor track record as measured by the ratio of off topic questions. This is not surprising given how often many of us need to understand the essentials of intellectual property law as contrasted to how much we are typically trained on the topic.

Still, I find some licensing questions on this site quite useful read.

A question's being on topic still does NOT mean that the question will attract a qualified and/or correct answer here. When a question is likely to evolve into sophisticated pseudo-legal answers, it should be closed as "not constructive" like any other question that is not constructive. When a question irritates people here, it should be closed as "not welcome here".

Regardless of whether a question is a good or bad fit for the site, using the appropriate tag makes it easier to filter it in or out and to deal with it accordingly.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .