I suspected this issue might come up when I posted a question that involved US copyright law as it relates to photographers (Fair Use):

I see there was a vote to close the question as being too local: What is "Fair Use" (US Copyright Law)

How local is too local? Do we disregard all legal issues when it comes to photography since all law is local?

  • As the example question and all of the answers below are all about legal concerns, maybe this question should be re-worded to be specifically about legal concerns. Then the non-legal local stuff can maybe be debated on meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/63/… Jul 17 '10 at 17:15

This is a good question. I actually thought your post was an excellent one, as I have often wondered about 'Fair Use' myself. I think legal issues are an intrinsic issue that all photographers have to deal with, and I think such questions are entirely valid. I also think allowing such questions here on PPE would make it a particularly valuable resource.

It may just be that we need to qualify the region in the title of the question?

"What is 'Fair Use' in the US?"

I suppose it is also possible that such legal concerns cross the boundaries of geographical local, and can still be valid. I have long been a member of DeviantArt.com, a very diverse art site that is well-known for its art piracy issues. I've seen many discussions about fair use of art involving people from multiple countries. Its a tricky topic, but probably an important one.

  • I agree - although copyright law is covered by international treaties, so can have a wider relevence Jul 16 '10 at 8:52
  • Seems like a reasonable response. I'll update this particular question accordingly... let's see if anyone else chimes in here...
    – ahockley
    Jul 16 '10 at 14:44

Personally I think having somewhere to discuss legal questions can be vaulable (especially given there is a lot of confusion at the moment). Both from a local point of view, as well as providing information to someone who is planning on going overseas and wants to know what issues they may run into.

Instead I would propose setting guidelines in place so that it is clear to what region the question is relevant. Either through tags, or just in the body.

This enables people to answer appropriatly, as well as improves search results.


I was the close vote, and I'll explain where I'm coming from here:

  1. While some on the site may be attorneys or otherwise-qualified to answer the question, actually answering said question (and you acting on their advice) can expose them to liability if their advice turns out to be incorrect. (Not saying you would, just that attorneys and doctors have special responsibilities when it comes to handing out advice.)
  2. Taking any "legal" advice one gets online is a dangerous place to put oneself in. I can tell you I'm a lawyer who's been on the Illinois Bar for twenty years -- that doesn't make it true. (Indeed, it's not! I'm a software developer in my 30s!) Thus, how do you vet the information you're getting from people here?
  3. My understanding is that Fair Use is a very unclear topic, and has been the subject of numerous legal debates. What is considered "true" today regarding Fair Use may be completely false the next time an appellate court hears a case. Who's going to keep the question and answer content updated with every reinterpretation of US copyright law?
  4. This is localized to the US, however, that can be worked around simply by rewording the question (as others have noted).
  5. This is not the first StackExchange site to have a vested interest in legal advice pertaining to the subject matter: Stack Overflow itself goes through this frequently, and even the Gaming site has had discussions about this. The consensus throughout the other sites has been, "close those questions; most of us aren't really qualified to answer them and those that are can't really (easily) be vetted for quality."

Is it on-topic? Absolutely. Is it of interest? 100%. (I'D be interested in a definitive answer!) But the only right answer to any legal question is:

Consult a local attorney who specializes in this field.

Hence the close vote.

(That said, I see that no one else voted to close that question. These sites are run by their respective communities, and thus it's clear that -- as of right now -- the community wants that question open.)

  • Thanks for your extensive response John... I hope more folks chime in.
    – ahockley
    Jul 16 '10 at 19:20
  • 2
    Re liability, there is a disclaimer in the site's license and my understanding is random advice found on a site like this isn't – by default – assumed to be legal advice under many (most?) legal systems.
    – user167
    Jul 17 '10 at 6:15
  • @Roger: Wasn't aware of that. Even discounting liability issues, though, taking legal advice from just about any website is a dangerous position to put oneself in.
    – John Rudy
    Jul 17 '10 at 14:49
  • I completely agree that you should not be asking for legal advice, but (along the lines of my answer, i.e. "from a photography standpoint") this can be answered – even using legal terms – without being legal advice.
    – user167
    Jul 17 '10 at 19:14
  • Thanks for the clear explanation, John. I think you've made some excellent points, and I have to agree that, even if there is no liability to the site or its members, answering such questions could lead someone into trouble.
    – jrista
    Jul 17 '10 at 19:19

Your question ends on "from a legal standpoint", but it seems you really are asking "what does this mean from a photography standpoint?" In other words, "why do I care as a photographer and what should be my next step towards finding out [whatever]".

Even though there's an explicit disclaimer in the license, my understanding is random advice found on a site like this isn't – by default – assumed to be legal advice under many (most?) legal systems.

Personally, I would rather see multiple questions about different areas (e.g. US, EU, etc.) than trying to lump it all together. These questions should definitely be discouraged from proliferating into a series, and they are on the edge of not belonging. However, a general overview of the concepts (especially with links on where to go for more information) is objective, important, useful, and on-topic – from a photography standpoint.

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