Have a look:

These questions are asking for legal advice. For obvious reasons, I think we should decline to answer these. Opinions?

  • 2
    sigh... every site quickly starts looking for questions that are not allowed in them...
    – juan
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 23:16
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    I think the questions themselves should be allowed. People answering those questions just have to be careful not to phrase it as if it is legal advice. Pointing people to the correct references and/or professionals would be appropriate.
    – Ash
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 0:12
  • 1
    @Juan That's because it's better to be a focused, excellent community at one thing than a haphazard amoeba of a community that knows a little bit about a bunch of things.
    – StrixVaria
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 0:15
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    @Juan That, and "Are questions about [subject] on or off topic?" is listed as the first "essential meta question of every beta". Every site is simply following instructions.
    – mootinator
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 1:27
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    @Juan - Sites have to define themselves by determining what questions this site will exclude, and more importantly, what we will include. The off-topic questions are the negative space a site uses to define itself. In the example of this question, my opinion above (that we should disallow legal questions) really doesn't matter much. What matters is that the site users will discuss this and make a decision either way. Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 3:12

2 Answers 2


I think these questions are common enough, and information about them important enough, that we shouldn't back away from them entirely. However, for the same obvious reasons you refer to, perhaps we can develop some rules / caveats. For example:

  • As @mootinator points out, few if any of us are lawyers. Any question about a "legal" issue on this site should be asked and answered with that implicit understanding.
  • To that end, I propose a legal tag to be rigorously applied to such questions, and appropriate disclaimers can be added to its tag wiki.
  • It can be a point of writers.stackexchange etiquette that answers to such questions focus on pointing the asker to relevant resources on the web or elsewhere - those provided by people who are lawyers, for example, or government Departments of Copyright/Trademarks - and avoid answers that appear to be unverified opinion.

My experience on SO and the other Exchange sites has been that the community can be effective at shaping how questions are asked and answered. Legal questions are a common and crucial part of Q&A for writers, and if this is going to become a premiere community for writers the way SO has for programmers, we'd do better to handle these questions with a steady hand on the rudder than to tell people to take them elsewhere.

  • 1
    +1 for the legal tag
    – Axarydax
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 23:13
  • I had some useful training about how to blog post or answer questions on a site like this without being seen to give legal advice. One useful tip is to ask yourself "have I answered in a way that would make the person immediately act on what I said?". Giving generic information tends not to do that, eg "you may have copyright if...", but definitive answers don't. Mind you in my jurisdiction (England) there is no law against giving legal advice without being a lawyer (no "licence to practice law" concept) so that may make things easier. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 22:57

In reference to this question, and @MarkBaker 's comments on the accepted answer: If I write a scene almost exactly like in someone's photograph, would it be plagiarism?

I think the answer to this meta question ("are legal questions on topic") should be "no." Most of us are not qualified to give legal advice, so our answers will always be opinion based. My vote is that we declare legal questions off-topic, for our own protection.

  • Agreed. If we can't give quality answers, we should not give answers at all. But that does not stop folks. I think most of the existing copyright questions and answers do more harm than good. Not to mention that they pretty much all fail the requirement to do basic research before asking a question.
    – user16226
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 4:32

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