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Updated 8 September 2012: We really would like your feedback on this: so please vote, edit, comment, and answer this proposal.


Building on discussion from Do we need a new close reason for legal questions? and Legal Questions Revisited, I would like to discuss the possibility of creating a new Community Wiki Q&A to help inform webmasters of their due diligence (asking on an SE site != due diligence) for legal concerns.

Rather than closing or otherwise modifying questions, a link to this Q&A would be added as a post notice to let the asker decide whether to leave the question up for the community or take responsibility for finding qualified legal counsel. (and this way we would have a general answer that everyone can contribute to rather waiting for an answerer to mention "I Am Not A Lawyer" + "... nor is anyone else here")

Question: How do I ensure my website is operating within the law?

Proposed Answer: (draft - please feel free to edit/expand)

As stated in our FAQ, you are encouraged to ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face - in the case of legal advice and the interpretation of any laws or contracts which apply to your website or operations, any answers you receive here (or on any publicly-accessible site) should not be considered a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

We are webmasters, not lawyers: although answerers may have personal experience and advice concerning an issue you that you face, in some jurisdictions you may have a legal responsibility to perform due diligence by researching the legality of your website or practices - contact a lawyer for legal advice to ensure that you get the best information. Moreover, although the advice you receive may be legitimate, there is a possibility that the advice may not be applicable to your jurisdiction (i.e. The laws of your country of residence are different then the laws discussed in the question).

New draft (by christofian):

This webpage discusses legal issues. Please remember that:

  1. Any advice posted here or on another website should not be considered a substitute for consulting a laywer. Treat it like something an acquaintance told you, and consider consulting a lawyer, a government official, or someone similar if you are actually experiencing this problem.
  2. People are encouraged to state which country their advice applies to, as laws and legal procedures vary from country to country. The advice given here may not apply to your location.
  3. Depending on your location, you may have a legal responsibility to contact a lawyer. See the wikipedia page on due diligence for more info.
  • While I agree anything limiting the useless addition of "I am not a lawyer" this notice as worded explicitly states that the site can't answer your question; that really means that it should be closed – Ben Brocka Sep 8 '12 at 15:01
  • @BenBrocka good point. I would prefer the wording "the advice posted on this site should be considered a supplement, and not a replacement, for good legal advice." I'll edit the notice soon. – user6901 Sep 8 '12 at 15:39
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It looks like you are trying to protect yourselves from possible liability in case someone comes in, takes legal advice at face value, and then wants to sue the poster. That ... admittedly could happen, but unfortunately a post notice won't protect you if someone's really keen on going after you.

You (as a community) have to make a decision about whether or not you're going to accept questions with a legal slant to them. If you do, you don't want to then turn around and put up a "this advice might be useless" sign on everything. Give each question the individual attention it deserves.

If someone is offering poor advice, that should be called out in comments and/or downvoted, not hidden away behind a disclaimer notice. If someone is looking for specific, targeted legal advice, they should be directed to a lawyer. Use your best judgement on this and leave guiding comments to users who are either looking for or giving very targeted advice.

Leaving comments is also preferable to a post notice in a couple ways:

  1. The asker would actually be notified of the comment whereas post notices don't generate notifications.
  2. You could tailor the message to the person instead of showing them a generic notice. You could voice additional concerns or offer a direction for them to start looking in.

Rather than closing or otherwise modifying questions, a link to this Q&A would be added as a post notice to let the asker decide whether to leave the question up for the community or take responsibility for finding qualified legal counsel.

I'd like to address this point explicitly: regardless of how general the question is, how qualified the person answering it is, or whether or not it has a post notice, at the end of the day, this isn't a game show where going with the majority opinion from the audience is a valid move. :)

By the time the question appears on the site, this decision has already been made by the asker, so the best we can do here is either help them out by answering or by directing them to a real lawyer, whichever happens to be most reasonable in their situation.

  • In that case, I'd be in favor of bringing up the possibility of a new close reason to limit the potential for unpleasantness or confusion on this matter - what would be the process for determining whether a new close reason has sufficient community support to be implemented? (e.g. meta.webmasters discussion w/100 upvotes or ..?) – danlefree Sep 27 '12 at 4:26
  • @danlefree I don't think that we need a new close reason, we just need to establish guidelines for legal questions and then use appropriate close reasons (off-topic is we decide legal questions are off-topic, too localised if we decide to make a rule saying legal questions have to be broad, etc.) – user6901 Sep 27 '12 at 23:12
  • @Christofian Yes, that's basically it. Existing close reasons + guiding/explanatory comments should do nicely. – Adam Lear Sep 28 '12 at 15:57
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Thanks for starting the discussion on this, danlefree. Here are some (minor) points that we also should discuss.

I think that a post notice might be more visible than a comment (comments take up less space, and they can be hidden by other comments). The flip side of that is that not everyone can leave a post notice, but if people leave a comment and then flag the question, one of the mods can delete the comment and add the post notice.

In addition, should the faq be updated (we could also update it for hosting questions and questions)? I feel like that would help educate new users about the policies that we have regarding those questions.

  • I think a post notice is a great idea. Also, I agree about updating the FAQ. – paulmorriss Sep 10 '12 at 13:01
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Whilst I can understand where this idea is coming from, and am fully supportive of the concept, such an FAQ would be fraught with difficulties - not least the multi-national nature of the inter-web

What may be a good answer for one jurisdiction maybe incomplete or OTT for another.

For example, any US-centric answer about cookies would probably not cover the new EU-cookie law whereas AIUI an EU-centric answer would go beyond the US-requirements.

Tricky...

  • This is a good point: I think that we should also have a rule that you need to clearly state what country your answer if applicable. – user6901 Sep 10 '12 at 21:34
  • Doesn't the Q/A pair referenced here cover that possibility? – danlefree Sep 11 '12 at 5:09
  • @danlefree it does, but this will be the real challenge of the FAQ. But I will certainly support such an FAQ... – Andrew Sep 11 '12 at 9:32

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