[linux-elitists] IANAL, TINLA

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Thu Jan 12 14:51:11 PST 2006

Quoting Mister Bad (mr.bad@pigdog.org):

> Anyone who's spent any reasonable amount of time around intelligent
> people on the Innurnet knows that "IANAL, TINLA" means "I am not a
> lawyer, this is not legal advice." We use these terms when discussing
> legal issues.
> My question is: why? I've always assumed that we do it to avoid the
> appearance of practicing law without a license, which is illegal in a
> lot of US states, as well as to avoid the appearance of setting up a
> client-attorney relationship, which entails some responsibilities from
> both parties.

Actually, I'm planning soon a series of articles for _Linux Gazette_
(the real one, of course) on legal issues for computer geeks.  Of
necessity, my first topic is understanding the "unauthorised practice of
law" statutes, with reference to the Nolo Press case in Texas, etc.

> But the more I think about it, the more ridiculous this sounds. First,
> I can't believe that in a democracy, people cannot discuss the laws of
> their country, state, or city without the appearance of "practicing
> law". 

In a nutshell, for it to be unauthorised practice of law, you must be
giving specific advice to a party on a specific situation, in the sorts
of areas that are deemed subject matter reserved to attorneys.  The 
caselaw is interesting and worth reading.

The boundaries of what subject matters (in the context of "advice") are
reserved to attorneys has proven over the years a bit nebulous, but the
other prong of the test (about giving advice on specific real
situations) is where you as a non-laywer can most easily protect

Thus, my projected articles will address only invented situations, e.g.

o  Purple Sombrero, Inc. sending an infuriatingly bogus trademark-based
   threat letter to Pandaemonium Foundation, publishers of 
   CommunityOS Enterprise Linux.

o  Venture Capital Linux, Inc. publishing binary RPMs of third-party
   GPLed ndmp utility, accidentally including proprietary code under
   NDA from two business partners, and thus having to choose between the
   torts of (a minor) copyright violation and (a major) violation of

o  TinyLimp Partners threatening Lee Avid, coder of the open-source
   ImaginaryCopy audio-video utility for allegedly violating its 
   supposed patents on the ESV (Enhanced Streamed Video) file format.

Anyone who thinks those correspond to real-world situations obviously
has an over-active imagination.

Cheers,               Note, we never call it "reverse engineering"
Rick Moen             due to the nasty connotations this has in the USA.
rick@linuxmafia.com                            -- Jeremy Allison

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