The internet is full of opportunity and wonder and we use it for almost every aspect of our lives nowadays, but some of the things you do on there might not be legal and you might not even have realised.
Nobody wants to go to jail for doing something online that will have alarm bells ringing in various government agencies, so pay attention to the following tips.
While file sharing is technically not illegal you step into a huge legal grey area when looking at copyrighted content for which you haven’t paid is at the very least frowned upon. Some ISPs have threatened to cut off service for those who use torrenting sites, so be warned!
This should be obvious enough, but it’s being clear about what cyberbullying actually entails that is the issue. Even a simple tweet telling someone you hatr them constitutes cyberbullying and can lead to prosecution.
Obviously any player that is associated with the official website of a broadcaster showing material is fine, but there are a whole host of unofficial sites streaming other people’s programmes. These are definitely illegal.
The deep web
The deep web is kind of like the seedy underbelly of the internet. You didn’t know this existed? It’s maybe best that you still think that way, because accessing the deep web and any of its sites could land you in hot water without you realising. Stay away!
Using a fake name
Lots of people do this on social media, but apparently this is actually illegal. Extra bad if you use your fake name to impersonate an officer of the law or government official.
Using a fake IP address
Not something everyone will do or even know how to, but you shouldn’t. Using a VPN will hide your IP address, but you shouldn’t try and take matters into your own hands if you want to avoid prosecution.
Connecting to non-secured wi-fi
Just because you can log on without a password, it’s still not yours to log on to. Legally it is classed as theft.
Not declaring earnings
Obviously you would never work without declaring your earnings, but what about selling things? If you use sites such as eBay anything you sell as still classed as income and needs to be declared, as daft as that sounds since you’re probably selling stuff you already paid for at a fraction of the original cost anyway.
They’re in the public domain so it’s ok, right? Well, not if the person who created said GIF stole the source material. It’s unlikely you will be prosecuted for using a GIF, but err on the side of caution.
Not your own, but other people’s. When you click on ‘save image as’ you are technically stealing the photograph. And if you then share it with someone else you are technically distributing stolen goods.
This in itself isn’t illegal, but what if you’re on holiday and your boss asks you to write a quick report? If you’re in another country and you don’t have a work visa (and who would if they were going on holiday?) then you are technically breaking the law.
Why would you even do this anyway? Well there’s a chance that you might have a joint email account with a friend, partner or business associate and you’ll both need the same password to log in. The illegality involves something to do with paid services and software, but it’s unlikely to lead to a knock at your door.
Facebook and Twitter are full of these and they’re usually good for a few laughs. The problem arises from who or what is being parodied. For example if you have a Twitter account that is basically you pretending to tweet like a character from a popular television show then you have stolen someone else’s intellectual property in order to do so.
The lower age limit for having a Facebook account is 13, but it’s not properly enforced. Although a young user would simply have to lie about their date of birth to gain entry it’s the online equivalent of Tippexing out the date on your birth certificate and writing over it to gain entry to a nightclub when you’re underage. It is definitely illegal.
Registering trademarked domain names
A few people tried this in the early days of the internet in the hope that the actual companies in question would pay handsomely for the name. Sadly it backfired and companies took individuals to court over it in some cases. If you don’t own the brand name, don’t use it.
Yes, it can be done, but there’s a reason the paywall is there in the first place. Some online news outlets don’t want to give you their content for free – they’ve got overheads, you know. By not paying and reading anyway you might as well have just walked into a newsagent’s and picked up a newspaper and walked out without paying.
This should go without saying because, you know, copyrighted material. Always check though because it is sometimes permitted.
Singing Happy Birthday
We all do this for our friends and family, so what’s wrong with it? Nothing really, but the problem arises if you film it and then upload it to YouTube. Happy Birthday is copyrighted material and if you haven’t paid royalties you could technically end up in bother for recording your own “cover version” of it.
So the internet can be a legal minefield. While some of the things mentioned above might only be sort of technically illegal and will never lead to you doing a stretch in prison, some of them are very serious indeed. When taking anything for free online ask yourself if you would take the same thing if you were in a shop. Chances are the answer will be no and you might need to think your online practices a little.