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Currently on Reverse Engineering, there are two questions I'd like to bring up about the laws surrounding reverse engineering, both asked by the same user:

In the first one, one user commented that without specifying a location, the question would be too broad. In the second question, that same user comments that specifying a country would make it too localized.

The second comment was in response to my comment on this answer. My comment was meant to specify that patent law didn't necessarily apply completely. The response, while bringing up good points, also mentioned that if the asker had mentioned that he was looking for the policies in India, the question would be too localized. Some of the points implied that the question wasn't too broad.

From what I can tell, the subject matter of the two questions, while technically different, are similar enough that the two questions should be judged by the same standards regarding how broad or narrow a question is.

My question here is what qualifies the first question for being too broad without a specific country, but not too narrow with a specific country; and what qualifies the second one for not being too broad when asking for a global answer (which is nigh impossible regarding laws), but too localized if specific country is mentioned?

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    +1 Hehe :) ... indeed. One jurisdiction, I think makes too localized. But not specifying it makes it too broad. I still stand by that as I happen to be "that same user" ;) ... also keep in mind that this is my opinion. I'm not a mod, so I'm still entitled to one *g* – 0xC0000022L Apr 4 '13 at 23:37
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For starters, since I am "that same user" having made those two comments, I feel compelled to clarify and comment.

Best answer by far (no offense, your efforts are much appreciated and you wrote up a perfectly fine answer, too) to the second question was:

Well, in this case I'll quote Mikko Hypponen from F-Secure:

"Remember, the legal advice you get from unknown strangers on internet forums is worth every penny you paid for it."

Source*

In fact that also applies to the first one.

The bigger question is perhaps: should we allow any legalese questions? Ethics is one thing, but actual legal advice can even be illegal to give in some jurisdictions I'm aware of, unless you are a practicing lawyer/judge and have an approbation.

There is a baseline about what's a white hat, what's a gray hat and what a black hat, hence partitioning the ethical framework a bit.


Indeed I still stand by my comments. They are an opinion and it hasn't changed, although I reserve the right to change my opinion at any point.

Let me take some of the points from your question and your answer:

In the first one, one user commented that without specifying a location, the question would be too broad. In the second question, that same user comments that specifying a country would make it too localized.

You don't think there is a whole range between everything and nothing? I'd think so and that's what this was hinting at. While the Internet is global and many a sales effort is as well, local jurisdictions still apply.

A question applicable to Molvania may indeed be too narrow/localized for the majority of readers. It doesn't mean that the question should be closed or so, but it does mean that I hold the opinion that putting this into the context of the NAFTA, EEC, WIPO or whatever may make a lot more sense. And specifying it in the first place makes sense as well.

From what I can tell, the subject matter of the two questions, while technically different, are similar enough that the two questions should be judged by the same standards regarding how broad or narrow a question is.

Agreed.

My question here is what qualifies the first question for being too broad without a specific country, but not too narrow with a specific country; and what qualifies the second one for not being too broad when asking for a global answer (which is nigh impossible regarding laws), but too localized if specific country is mentioned?

Again, I'm a community member just like you. There is no difference, except perhaps what our respective rep values allow us to do at the moment. My opinion has no more bearing than yours on anything.

And, btw, I hold that both questions are too broad. The second one probably more so than the first.

I don't understand entirely why you think it is a contradiction if I hold that a single country might be too narrow/localized, but giving no context whatsoever is too broad. A specific country only helps readers from that country, if at all. Countries don't exist in an empty void on their own. There is context, there is scope - this should be reflected in the question (e.g. NAFTA, EEC, WIPO).

since global would be too broad, and country-specific (which is the next level down) would be too narrow.

May I say that this is a bit of a narrow-minded view? ;)

There are shades between global and local to a particular country. Heck, even inside a single nation you can have different laws depending on your location (e.g. in union/federal states).

Basically, the only answer for global questions is "It depends."

Yep. Which - again - begs the question whether this category of questions should be allowed at all.

I think it would take a lot to make a legal question too narrow, but neither of these would be too narrow.

I disagree (opinion again! ;)).

The reason being that a Q&A site - and this is not a discussion forum but a Q&A site - should always also consider the audience. The question, when asked so broadly will be picked up by a search engine fine. Alright, so people looking for an answer might go about, run a web search and end up with this result which is local to India, but that's nowhere but in the fine print at the bottom of the question text (referring to the first one).

You see what I mean?

  • How specific is their question? ("Is it legal to clean room engineer and sell a product based on MS Word?" vs. "Is it legal to sell clean room engineered products?")

Hmm, not sure how this would make a difference. While I still hold that a question like "Is it legal to sell clean room engineered products in India?" may be too narrow/localized, it would certainly give a scope for future internauts searching for an answer.

  • Is someone else somewhere likely to encounter the same or a similar problem? (this is universal to all questions)

Very good. Exactly my point. It means a question should be qualified better. Asking about India, fine (in principle, although personally I'd find it too narrow). Make sure it stands out in the question, but don't pose a question as a broad question and then use the fine print to narrow it down ... perhaps ... eventually ... whatever ... This is bad form and makes it harder to find answers to questions.

  • How long would it take to adequately describe the laws asked about, especially any exceptions or further restrictions relevant to the question?

Shouldn't be a relevant criteria.

  • How specific is the location? (World, Country, even MORE localized?)

Yep, discussed that above.

  • Would it be easy to sum up the answer without making the answer inaccurate?

Sorry, I had to smirk reading that one. Given the saying that with three lawyers in a room you can be sure to end up with at least four different opinions.

Given how fuzzy many of the laws I have seen are already worded, how can you be accurate without having a judge do his/her job and rule on the specific case in question?

  • Thanks for clarifying. You make some good points. I usually tend to add disclaimers to any legal advice I give (i.e. that it's worth absolutely what the asker paid, which is nothing), but I've been neglecting that recently. As far as scope goes, thanks for clarifying your view behind it. That makes it much easier for my one-track mind (indeed, it is a one-track mind). And yes, looking back, I have to laugh at the last one, too. I also agree about not using the fine print to localize later :P. Thanks! – JMcAfreak Apr 5 '13 at 15:17
  • I think legal advice should definitely be kept off of this site. We are experts in reverse engineering, not law. Legal questions belong on a StackExchange filled with experts in law and various jurisdiction. The one correct answer to these questions is "Consult a lawyer who practices in your jurisdiction.". Anything beyond that and you could be held legally responsible for your legal advice, i.e the person who asked the question may have basis for a lawsuit against you. – Peter Andersson Apr 5 '13 at 16:51
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Given the similarity of the questions ("Is it legal to __?"), if the two were judged the way it's put here (one not being able to be too narrow while the other could never be too broad), legal questions would never work on SE, since global would be too broad, and country-specific (which is the next level down) would be too narrow.

Anything regarding copyright or patent is often specific to the country, and a global answer would be too broad, especially since the user providing an answer would be unable to be more specific without entering into several different countries' laws, which would require very extensive research and too much space. Basically, the only answer for global questions is "It depends."

In the question about the legality of selling clean room engineered products, there could be a specific enough answer, but it depends on how the user goes about answering it. This shows that there are some cases where things aren't too broad. However, such is the exception, and not the rule. Also, the question still wouldn't bee to narrow if it asked specifically if it would be illegal in India. I'd consider it no more localized than asking about the US, UK, or EU laws regarding such things.

I think it would take a lot to make a legal question too narrow, but neither of these would be too narrow. They would be too narrow if asking about reverse engineering or clean room engineering a specific thing, but I think that's where the main weight of broad/narrow lies in most legal questions.

In order of importance, here are some of the things I think apply to how broad/narrow a legal question is (it's mostly the same as normal questions, with some additions) :

  1. How specific is their question? ("Is it legal to clean room engineer and sell a product based on MS Word?" vs. "Is it legal to sell clean room engineered products?")
  2. Is someone else somewhere likely to encounter the same or a similar problem? (this is universal to all questions)
  3. How long would it take to adequately describe the laws asked about, especially any exceptions or further restrictions relevant to the question?
  4. How specific is the location? (World, Country, even MORE localized?)
  5. Would it be easy to sum up the answer without making the answer inaccurate?

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