A legal question was recently posted on the site:

What permissions do I need to write a non-fiction book based on personal interviews?

There are currently two answers, one that points out the potential problems the question author may face and highlights the importance of getting actual, real legal advice from a lawyer; the other answer a more speculative one that adds little of value.

In 2010, the site decided that legal questions should be allowed here. Well and good, and the only reason to disallow a legal question would be for the usual Stack Exchange reasons: Chatty, open-ended questions, and so on.

However...I have never seen one of these questions answered by an actual lawyer, here or on any other Stack Exchange site. The best answers always boil down to "ask a lawyer". And I'm uncomfortable dispensing legal advice over the internet, where the person answering almost never has all the facts.

My question:

Has anyone found these questions useful? Are they useful to anyone aside from the OP?

If the only way to answer a legal question is to say "please consult a lawyer", what value do these questions add to the site? Should we close these questions on sight, edit them into a better form (if so, what would that be?), or, if they do add value to ste site, should we leave them as they are?

3 Answers 3


I've both asked and answered legal or legal-ish questions, and I find them helpful.

All such questions and answers acknowledge that SE isn't a source of actual legal advice. However, what such questions accomplish is to familiarize OP with the central legal concepts and elements that his issue needs to deal with. For example, amateur writers may not be familiar with contract law, and should definitely get legal advice when negotiating a contract, but it's still extremely beneficial for them to know the basic rights that are commonly negotiated over.

The purpose of such questions is to establish familiarity with the topic, not expertise. It helps a writer know what questions to ask of a lawyer. Sometimes they also help make clear what "common practice" to expect, even if specific cases/rulings may differ - e.g., What's "fair use" for borrowing someone else's invented term? .


Well, even if a lawyer answers them here, it wouldn't be reliable legal advice on which the OP can count on. As long as you do not pay the lawyer, he will only make unspecific general statements. (He has to do that.)

But I always looked at these questions as "do not scare them away". If we delete their legal questions, it is unlikely that they ask their other questions here.

Besides that, it is good to clarify what you really want to know. With our answers (and maybe links to other resources) we can help the OP to make it clearer for him what he needs to ask if he hires a lawyer.

The question you linked to is much too broad to answer concisely for a lawyer. The OP should offer more details to nail it down and I hope he got some information here to fulfill that task.

So I still consider these question useful, even though I shout at them "GET A LAWYER!".


The easiest way to make legal questions "appropriate for the site is to cast them in historical (that is factual) perspective.

For instance, the question cited in the question might be cast as "What permissions have people gotten in the past (rather than "need to get") to write a non-fiction book based on personal interviews?

I cast one of my own questions this way:

What was the legal doctrine or standard that made the following acceptable?

Obviously, someone got clearance based on such-and-such legal theory. So what did they do and why?

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