I am doing a lot of open-source projects as a private person, don't have a legal entity behind me.

In the course of developments I am sometimes faced with legal questions, for instance:

  • Clarification of licenses or EULAs.
  • Trademark infringement. (I might be facing a cease-and-desist letter from Apache in the near future.)

I would clearly not ask for legal advice, but rather for the clarification and experience of the community. This does not replace a lawyer but may help to avoid a need for one in the first place. And I think this type of questions are not uncommon.

I don't think SO is suitable - but which site then?


I'd like to address the "Actual legal advice is not on-topic anywhere on the network - and frankly, shouldn't be." point specifically.

It is definitely correct that if I have a legal issue, I have to consult a lawyer.

My point is, however is not what to do, when you already have a legal issue but how to avoid them. An this is where the community may be very helpful.

For instance, most people would know that stealing is illegal not because they've consulted a lawyer or read the law codex but because they've learned it somehow from their community - parents, teachers etc.

In the context of software, I, for instance, know that if I use GPL-licensed software, there may be license-technical consequences for my project. I first heard it from senior colleagues and later read a number of articles on that subject.

(On a side note, when I had a GPL issue in my company, I've consulted our corporate lawyer. After 5 meetings and few weeks I've got a 5-page wishy-washy answer "this may or may not be a problem". So I believe I would have WAY better served in the community.)

Next thing is sharing experience and precedents. A lot of cases have precedents - you just have to know them. A pointer to the article describing "A was sued by B over C and this is how it ended" may give a valuable pointer on how to proceed - or much better avoid the issue at all.

Finally, I can't really afford a lawyer for all of the potential issues I am faced. Remember, I'm just a private person doing some open-source in this case, I have no foundation to back me up with a legal department or overtake the legal costs.

So I have to take risks. These risks are normally very low, but I have to estimate the probability and the possible damage. This is where an advise from community may be valuable.

  • How to avoid legal issues is still a legal question, and the only one qualified to tell you how to avoid them is an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdication and familiar with software copyright or trademark law. Any other "advice" is worth exactly what you pay for it, and cluttering up any of the SE sites with that "advice" is simply collecting nonsense, because all answers on that type of topic here would be irrelevant. None of them would be worth a cent once you're in court. The answer to all legal questions is ask your attorney.
    – Ken White
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 15:19
  • 3
    @KenWhite With all due respect, I stongly disagree that "the only one qualified to tell you how to avoid [legal issues] is an attorney".
    – lexicore
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 18:21
  • With all due respect, an attorney familiar with the laws in the jurisdiction in which you reside is the only one qualified to give you advice on legal issues - it's what they are educated and licensed to do, and they have legal and financial reasons to give you proper information. Any random (and often unnamed) stranger on the internet has no such knowledge, education, and definitely does not have the legal and financial ramifications for giving you bad information; after all, it's not their income and assets that are at risk for taking their advice if it turns out to be wrong, it's yours.
    – Ken White
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 20:17
  • 2
    The advice to consult an attorney is warranted in some circumstances (no pro se, please), but as the answer to someone asking to learn about the law, it is terrible advice. How can one know that an attorney's advice is sensible if one does not know the law? Maybe we should also not learn anything about medicine and let doctors decide everything, not learn anything about how cars work and let mechanics do whatever they'll do, not know anything about plumbing and agree to whatever the first plumber we call tells us.
    – Louis
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 22:51
  • 1
    @Louis: So you're suggesting that if you feel really ill, you should ask for diagnosis and treatment on the internet instead of seeing your doctor? Incorrect legal advice can have serious financial (and sometimes criminal) impact, and I'm damned sure not going to risk my bank account, house, or any other assets based on legal advice given by a random individual on an internet site, any more than I'm going to decide whether a pain in my chest is a heart attack or indigestion based on a Google search. If you're willing to accept any legal advice given on a programming forum, good luck to you.
    – Ken White
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 22:59
  • @KenWhite Doctor vs internet? I've received allergy shots for 5 years. My MD said I'd have to stay in his office after a shot so that he could give me epinephrine in case of anaphylaxis. I recently discovered (through a forum, ha!) that beta-blockers (which my medical history records I've taken for years before starting the shots) can block epinephrine. So for 5 years, this guy with the degree exposed me to a risk of death significant enough that taking beta-blockers is a contra-indication to the shots. Leaving it to the experts can kill. Luckily, I never went into shock.
    – Louis
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 23:49
  • @Louis: I never said anything about not doing research yourself. Good for you that you found something that helped you. And good if you found another doctor who was able to tell you whether what you found through that forum was true or not. If you chose to alter your treatments solely based on what you learned in that forum without consulting someone with education and training to tell you it was right, you're probably lucky to be alive. Blindly believing what you read on the internet is simply a bad idea.
    – Ken White
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 1:50

2 Answers 2


Software license questions are on topic at Programmers, though you should read the on-topic help pages before posting to ensure the question is in scope (the license should be a software license, for example).

Not sure if Trademark infringement is, however. I can't think of a single site where that would be on topic (in general, these are not programming specific issues, so out of scope on Programmers).

Actual legal advice is not on-topic anywhere on the network - and frankly, shouldn't be. If you have a legal issue that you need advice on, random strangers on the Internet are not the way to get it - you need a lawyer for that.

  • 2
    Thank you for the pointer! I'll try there. Trademark is also very software related. (I had a bad luck to use a naming convention which Apache discouraged 5 years later on.) And please see the update of the question for an elaboration on why I seek advice from random strangers on the internet. From my experience (not only in the legal field), random strangers on the internet often did much better job than hired professionals. And I definitely don't trust blindly.
    – lexicore
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 11:56
  • 4
    @lexicore if you plan to ask at Programmers, don't forget to check prior questions before asking, eg How can I compare and contrast open source licenses? and Is there a chart for helping me decide between open-source licenses?
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 12:15
  • @gnat Thank you for the hint. This was really a "meta" question, I don't have anything specific about licenses at the moment.
    – lexicore
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 18:18

FWIW, there are often related proposals on Area 51.

Currently, for example:

  • Lawlaw.stackexchange.com

    Proposed Q&A site for experts in the law, and those who want to find our more about specific local, national or international laws, or those who want to find out about concepts regarding laws in general. The site is not for specific legal advice.

  • Intellectual Property → deleted

    Proposed Q&A site for questions about patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and any other areas of intellectual property law.

  • (And even a specialized proposal like UK Law → deleted.)

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