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Legal questions shouldn't be as prominent here as on some other sites, but they could still come up - asking whether materials could legally be obtained for instance, or asking about the legalities of sending a home built robot off on its own autonomously (and the potential consequences if it causes damage.)

Should we allow these here, providing they're tagged to location appropriately?

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I think it's important to separate out the legal issues into two buckets - one being how to properly or legally do something, for example shipping lithium polymer batteries (or products containing them). The second group or bucket would be "is it legal to have a robot do ". These are much more difficult for our audience to answer and probably fall into the category of "ask a lawyer", requiring downvoting and removal

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    $\begingroup$ Even if the first category provided useful answers, they would still only be applicable to local law, making them not general enough for SE in my opinion. For example, I would love to know how people handle bringing robots to conferences, but answers would be specific to US airport security vs Chinese customs agents, etc. Also, I'd wager that this specific question would elicit a lot of anecdotal advice rather than facts and figures. $\endgroup$ – ThomasH Oct 26 '12 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ThomasH I think you're right about the anecdotal advice, however many times it can be quite useful. For example, a lawyer would say that it is legal to carry AA batteries on an airplane. However, that doesn't change the fact that I was pulled aside, frisked, and the batteries from all my camera equipment confiscated when flying out of Hilo, Hawaii to Los Angeles. Similarly, the law may allow robots to fly, but damn if I don't know some TSA agents who would arrest you for trying it, especially a drone with nice spinny propeller blades. $\endgroup$ – Chris Nov 2 '12 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ I ended up here precisely because I'm curious about taking a set of robotics parts home with me on an flight. From what I can imagine if a bunch of electronic looking parts were loose in my hand luggage the TSA would look at me like I was raving mad. $\endgroup$ – Timothy Ford Nov 7 '12 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @TimothyFord - I have the same issue, I have to migrate back to Europe after an extended stay in Thailand. I am dreading trying to get my Arduino and associated shields, tools, etc. through security. Do I take a toolbox as hand luggage (bound to raise eyebrows) or stuff loads of wires and electronic components into my suitcase (again bound to raise eyebrows behind the scenes). $\endgroup$ – Greenonline Feb 28 '15 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ThomasH - +1 for different nations, different laws. $\endgroup$ – Greenonline Feb 28 '15 at 5:32
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Most legal questions I've come across on other SE were closed, precisely because they're only applicable to local law. SE sites are global and usually questions that are too localised are closed for that very reason, and I agree would with that sentiment in most instances.

Where legal questions have been allowed, the main answer is almost always "talk to a lawyer", as @berry has pointed out as well. While this isn't exactly helpful it's usually the best advice to give to people. So I would avoid them as much as possible.

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I'll go ahead and provide my thoughts.

Legal questions are a bit of a minefield, and a lot of people are afraid of them in case they land up in trouble after giving unsound legal advice. They also vary lots from place to place.

However, I think they can work, they just need to be tagged appropriately. In the USA this is more complicated because it can sometimes work at a state level, but I think in most other places the law is in a per-country basis.

Providing this is done, legal questions answered well can add great value to a site. If the main answer is "ask a lawyer", then this should be downvoted / removed, because it really isn't an answer at all.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't believe there is overlap between lawyers or law students and robotics enthusiasts. So basically, nobody will be able to answer these questions. $\endgroup$ – Ansis Māliņš Oct 24 '12 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @AnsisMalins - Erm, my other half is a lawyer who is interested in robotics, so your assertion is patently untrue. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Oct 24 '12 at 22:48
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I would say that yes, they should be allowed, on some conditions: Firstly, the locale of the question is clearly defined (USA state by state, USA national, Micronesian, etc). And secondly, that it's made clear, by asker or answerer, that the internet isn't the final authority on legal matters, this is not advice from a lawyer (unless it is), and so on. I understand the minefield of issues surrounding these sorts of questions, however often there are no other resources, and I've found that often I'm left with two choices: ask the SO community, or pay my lawyer my months wages to answer it.

Laws and robotics are clashing more and more - self driving cars need to be licensed, and, perhaps a better example, is the issue of flying drones. Drones could, in the immediate future, become the target of many laws, including privacy laws and the concern that they could easily fly a weapon to a target autonomously. Hobby robotics has become large and powerful enough to warrant attention from the law, and I believe that to ignore the issues of legality, especially when there are so few other places to get answers, could do the community a grave disservice.

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I would say that we allow any legal questions of the "how do I legally do ..." type, which are very relevant to the robotics community. Answers should be headed with an IANAL/whatever, and they shouldn't go into legalese. Additionally, the locale should be clear, as @Chris mentioned.

So questions looking for law-related things but not asking for complex legal advice should be fine. And we should try to keep the volume of all types of legal questions to a minumum, regardless.

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