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We get a question every few weeks that isn't really a question about game development, but a question about copyright or contract law.

I really do not think such questions have a place here; by their nature they are specific to the person only. The only acceptable answer is "talk to a licensed professional", and the answers posted by well-meaning users rarely disclaim being legal advice (and most are), which means they are possibly practicing law without a license, itself a crime.

The only allowable exception I can think of is "Where can I get a license for this common piece of development middleware?" which, in some cases, is obfuscated enough by the corporate site that I can understand asking it, and has a definitive answer of a website or mailing address.

Is there anyone that thinks the questions add something to the site? If so, is there a way we can accurately and legally answer them? Will such an answer ever be useful to someone else? Otherwise, I feel these questions need to be closed quickly and decisively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't disagree with you but without a bit more community/moderator consensus I don't want to take a heavy-handed approach to it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tetrad Nov 7 '10 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was hoping this topic would generate some consensus or at least some discussion, but it seems no one visits meta. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 10:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joe, it's only been 20 hours - not everyone checks the site hourly. :) Give it time. \$\endgroup\$ – Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, it helps to "advertise" meta topics on the parent site - I just linked this discussion in one of the relevant questions. The next time a legal Q comes up, you might comment-link it also, so people who only read the parent site, know that there is an issue with legal questions being on/off-topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cyclops: Given the rate the parent site updates, and that generally moderators should be checking the site at least once a day, I think no responses and only 7 views in 20 hours is a problem. (But I recall the current lack of moderator availability was discussed elsewhere already.) \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joe, I think there are two issues regarding the low response rate - First, as @Tetrad said, he wants to hear from non-moderators before acting, and it's possible the other moderators are following his cue, and not responding yet. \$\endgroup\$ – Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Second (dang short comments), this site is small, new, and doesn't yet have the full StackOverflow culture. SO has a long history of meta-arguments, whereas I suspect most people here are more concerned with actually developing, and only read the parent site for help. There just isn't (yet) a huge interest in the meta-issues. I suspect most people haven't even looked at the meta site - I know one of the people I nominated for moderator (Munificent) had major rep on the parent site - but didn't know he was even nominated, since he had never read the meta site. \$\endgroup\$ – Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 17:11
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The TL;DR summary:

  • it is not a crime to answer SE questions (unless you deliberately pose as a lawyer, which is fraud).
  • good basic questions will point out potential legal landmines to other developers.
  • knowing where the potential landmines are, will allow other devs to design their games so as to avoid them.

The long version - First, regarding risk: I read your practicing law without a license, and it specifically says:

some of the commonly occurring activities that generally are not considered the practice of law in Oregon include:

  • internet discussions groups without further personalized assistance in preparation of documents or court papers.

So we're fairly safe from prosecution by the Oregon DA. :)

Second, at least for those of us in the US, we have the First Amendent, which says we can speak freely - including answering legal questions. Granted if you claim to be a lawyer you'll get in trouble, but that's why people include the IANAL.

Now, as to whether we (gamedev) should be either answering, or asking legal questions - I think it's question-specific. Some questions will be too technical, and require a lawyer - but some questions, don't require any major legal knowledge.

You don't need a medical degree to tell someone that aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome in children, and you don't need a law degree to tell someone that copyright violation (of music) is illegal.

If someone asks such a basic legal question, that can be answered by quoting any of dozens of current copyright websites, I don't see a problem with the question. Assuming it's game-related, of course. :)

As the legal question gets more complex, it obviously falls more out of our domain (and gets too person-specific anyway), so it would be an off-topic question.

Where do you draw the line? That's something we're still trying to answer for a lot of topics :) But I don't think the answer is zero - I think some legal (game-related) question can be valid and on-topic for this site.

As to whether any given legal question would be useful to others, I think they could be - even if only to inform other devs that there is a legal issue that they need address, before releasing their game (and maybe before writing the game they can fix the issue beforehand).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't need a medical degree to say that aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome in children, but you do need one to say a child has Reye's syndrome. Likewise, you don't need a law degree to state legal facts - such as "this song is copyrighted" or to quote Title 17, but you do need to be a licensed lawyer to "[advise] someone of his or her legal rights in a particular situation". Unless we're going to restrict our answers to quoting legal judgements and definitions without interpretation, we're entering questionable territory. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside from that, no one here is a legal expert. I feel confident saying that no one here is a licensed lawyer or a paralegal; that no one here has a law degree; and I would be willing to bet that none of the people posting answers have even been involved in copyright litigation or disputes. In short, we're just plain not qualified to answer these questions with any expertise. Asking legal experts questions about scene graphs is ridiculous - why isn't the opposite? \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, what's with all this tl;dr crap lately? Either write clearly or don't write; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_repeat_yourself. (And conversely, either read what people wrote, or shut up.) \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe, if you want to quote my Answer elsewhere, you are free to do so, because this is a CC-Wiki, provided you give proper attribution, as per the Attribution-Required. There - I have just advised you of your legal rights in a particular situation. :) I do not need to be a lawyer, I have not committed a crime, and I'm fairly sure my answer is accurate (despite my having zero legal training). \$\endgroup\$ – Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm really not interested in joining the Internet Hairsplitting Olympics here. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe, while nobody here may be qualified to actually answer legal questions, there might be people who have been in a similar situations and could help guide the asker in what questions to ask or issues to bring up to an actual lawyer to help them get their legal problems resolved quicker. \$\endgroup\$ – Tetrad Nov 7 '10 at 17:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tetrad: If that's the case, they haven't shared in any of the questions so far; nor are any of the questions phrased "What should I ask my lawyer?". I think it's likely the community would make a positive contribution to many legal questions, and even give correct answers most of the time. But I don't think that's what SE is for. When I use an SE site, I want as close to 100% accuracy as possible, and if disallowing a group of questions raises the accuracy at the expense of a couple good ones, so be it. There are already sites I can use if I want to re-research answers. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Nov 7 '10 at 17:19
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Instead of responding in other comments with bits and pieces of what I want to say I'll just collate my ideas a bit more on my personal reason for not wanting to take a heavy handed approach at this point in time.

Of course this is subjective, but right now I don't see the current crop of legal-related questions to be so egregious as to require the "human exception handlers" to wield the banhammer on them.

At the very least, it seems that most of the the highest voted answers to those questions all eventually boil down to "get a lawyer", which makes it seem that the community-moderated aspect of the system is working.

If you want to convince people to downvote those questions, or eventually cast close votes (I realize that with the rep requirements raised it's impossible to get "community close" votes right now), then of course you're free to do so. Like I said, I don't disagree with you in theory, but the binding close vote is something that I don't want to use unless I'm sure that it's something that should be done. And I'm not 100% sold on the idea right now.

Now in terms of the comment you used: "When I use an SE site, I want as close to 100% accuracy as possible". If you look at it from a higher level standpoint, that isn't a really achievable goal. How do you apply an accuracy judgement to subjective discussions or professional experience? Try applying those standards to Moms 4 mom. The goal of SE, the company, is to "make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions."

Now the people here may not be attorneys, but I would hope there are enough people here who are professional developers or have had to deal with common legal issues in the past that they can offer their "expert" advice and say things like "Here are the issues we had, get a lawyer."

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's my ultimate hope that we will get a few practicing attorneys to chime in here, like some of the ones that are active over at GD.net \$\endgroup\$ – Jesse Dorsey Nov 29 '10 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would hope that the highest-voted answers would not simply be "get a lawyer", but provide a useful summary or overview of information. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jul 16 '11 at 16:51
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The only acceptable answer is "talk to a licensed professional"

Definitively disagree here. It's one of the acceptable answers. Personally I wouldn't neither consider it a good one in most cases. I would assume that the user making the question would know there are "licensed professionals", but he wanted to collect the opinion of the users instead (or first, or beside...).

answers posted by well-meaning users rarely disclaim being legal advice (and most are), which means they are possibly practicing law without a license, itself a crime.

You seem to ignore that well-meaning users could also be very knowledgeable and experienced. Personally I met more than one barrister who knew less than me on free software and copyleft, for example. Now: I don't want to say that people here is better than "licensed professionals", but it's a known fact that being "licensed" doesn't mean you are good at what you do, just that you are entitled at doing it professionally and therefore you are also bound to certain laws and regulations.

Both things do not apply to GameDev.

Is there anyone that thinks the questions add something to the site?

Me! (Maybe not all questions, but in principle I don't see this kind of question as less or more useful than others per se).

If so, is there a way we can accurately and legally answer them?

You should define "legally answer" first. But in general, the usefulness of the answers will be validated as for any other answer here: with upvotes. As for the accuracy: GameDev is not a lawyer and while it would be nice if all upvoted answers would also be accurate, having an occasional inaccurate one is part of the... game! :o

Will such an answer ever be useful to someone else? Otherwise, I feel these questions need to be closed quickly and decisively.

If an answer is too localised it should be closed as any other too localised one. Yet, much of the legal systems concerning copyrights abide to the principles of the Berne convention, so I think the vast majority of the answers will be somehow useful to a large audience.

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Constantly shunning (or plastering disparaging disclaimers on) any questions tagged seems absurd. While definitive legal advice can not be given here, some Q&A's can provide a good basis for initial research on what to look out for or talk with your lawyer about. Is providing and/or keeping that information bad or hazardous?

In the case of medicine, I could see it being that way; e.g. WebMD could cause patients to diagnose themselves and try to play their doctor to validate their own "expertise". Not sure if that translates to law though.

Could there just be some sort of automatic neutral statement that's attached to questions tagged ?

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    \$\begingroup\$ As I mentioned in a comment to Tetrad, I would be much more interested in questions along the lines of "What should I ask my lawyer?", "How can I file a game mechanics patent?", or "I am being sued for trademark infringement, what can I do?", which invite game developers who have experience in the area to share those experiences. None of the legal questions so far follow that pattern. They're all "Can I do X?", which are questions for lawyers. \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Jul 16 '11 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ And development-focused legal questions someone with experience could provide useful advice on, like gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/13304/…, are being answered by 16 year olds who have probably never negotiated an employment contract in their life. (No offense, Duck.) \$\endgroup\$ – user744 Jul 16 '11 at 18:28
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Certainly as a game developer that collaborates with other professional indie developers, I've found that we have all end up asking similar questions over the first few years. For example figuring out the legalese jargon regarding whether or not a UK developer invoicing a US client must charge VAT on the invoices. The answer is the same for all of us, but consulting a lawyer to have that confirmed is costly. Often when I have a question I think that others will have come across, I'll ask around for advice.

A response along the lines of "when we asked our lawyers about this similar issue, they told us X" is not only useful, but often exactly what is being looked for. Obviously answers like that come with no guarantees, and would benefit from being disclaimed in some fashion so that anyone stupid enough to think advice from someone on the internet is legally binding is not caught out. But I would say that sort of advice is exactly the kind of useful information sharing that the game-dev community needs, and that this site is perfectly set up to provide.

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