The discussion in the Cadenhead post is getting heated, with that catch-phrase ("I am not a lawyer, but ...") which leads me to ignore everything that follows, no matter who says it. Would you take law advice from someone who isn't a lawyer?
On one hand, that's a good point. My interpretation of computer law is as likely to be correct as the average lawyer's analysis of the XML-RPC spec.
On the other, though, it treats the law as a mystical art that laymen don't have the right to discuss, much less understand. Because we are subjected to the law, and our ability to bend a lawyer's ear for interpretive help is pretty limited, it seems prudent at times to fumble around like a bunch of Talmudic scholars, trying to glean meaning from its arcane language.
So back to the legal analysis: When I described Mark Pilgrim's stunt as "probably illegal," I was engaging in the cherished Internet tradition of talking out my ass. Whether it's probably illegal, possibly illegal, or simply obnoxious, my interpretation was definitely a wild guess.
Yep, you're right. My beef is more with the use of the phrase "I am not a lawyer, but..." than with laymen speaking on subjects outside their professions. It's the add-on phrases like IMHO, IANAL, "I think that" and the like that--and this may just be me--weaken one's argument.
I like the Internet for the ability of its users "talking out of one's ass". That's what makes it great. I just think that (oops) disclaimers are a little silly.
And there's no denying the hypocrisy: most (okay, all) things I talk about are outside my profession, and most (but not all) of the things I talk about are things in which I am not expert.