The internet is just like any other area of life and there laws surrounding what you can and can’t do online or use the internet for. This may come as a surprise to you, but you didn’t really think the internet was some kind of Wild West-style lawless state, did you? Familiarise yourself with the following points and don’t fall foul of the law when you’re online.
The internet is kind of like a society and every society need rules and regulations, however boring they may seem, otherwise everything could descend into chaos.
Different types of internet law
There are many laws for online use, but you might not be aware of the potential legal minefield you step into every single time you open your browser. Many laws come from different areas, such as privacy or contract laws and are exactly as you’d find them in real life.
Internet law encompasses all of the following: laws around website creation; laws relating to the government of Internet Service Providers (ISPs); trademark laws; laws relating to conflicts; and laws on how to link web pages. There are many other laws to consider, but these are the major ones.
The internet is a constantly evolving beast and many laws in places predate it. As such the laws surrounding internet usage and provision will be subject to changes, quite regularly in some cases. The laws are usually quite flexible due to the changing nature of what they apply to. Ordinary internet usage isn’t a problem, but the legality needs to be looked at if you are starting a business website or even a private site.
Many internet laws are international, but some countries have their own specific laws or variations of international rules.
Here are a few things you should know as an internet user:
The law surrounding online marketing is the some as in the real world in that the consumer shouldn’t be misled by false claims. Unfortunately this is often not the case online. Many online crimes are incredibly difficult to police and will largely go unpunished, even though it is quite a risk to take.
What websites should never do is make an inaccurate claim about what their product is capable over, claim it to be cheaper than elsewhere if it in fact isn’t, or use deliberate falsehoods such as “organic” or “natural” about things that clearly aren’t. Including any false customer testimony is also a no-no, but incredibly difficult to prove or disprove.
Websites as business
As well as not misleading their customers, websites should clearly state their involvement with sponsors, endorsements or partnerships. They should accept full responsibility for any freelance content they may contain. In short they should be as honest as physically possible and be transparent regarding their business.
This is an increasing popular way to get projects off the ground, but many don’t make it to the fully funded stage. If this happens and a project is abandoned then all monies should be refunded. Failure to do so is theft. Also if you reach the desired level of funding then you are legally bound to carry through your promised project.
There are many examples of this being misused and it can range from stealing an idea to writing a story based on characters which already exist from another book, film, or TV programme to using a trademarked name as a website domain name. Few things are worse than having your intellectual property stolen or misused and there are many lawsuits surrounding this particular aspect. Copying or plagiarism are easy to detect so it is imperative that you credit anyone for quotes you migt use or photographs you might use on a website.
Copyright is as important an issue online as it is in the real world.
It’s all too easy to discredit someone on social media, but defamation comes at a cost. Speak your mind at your peril because if you say something which is deemed libellous there could be a heavy fine or even a prison term depending on the severity of your post.
Privacy and free speech
These two points are often at odds with each other, but there are some important things to remember. As mentioned above, defamation can be a form of free speech, but it isn’t tolerated. The difference is it’s ok to say something negative about someone if it’s true and you can back it up, but not if it’s not.
Privacy is a basic human right but it can be violated if someone for instance posts a photograph of you without your permission. This can be worse if someone posts a photo of your child without your permission. The law had to be arranged to encompass this and the awful trend of “revenge porn” pictures that some jilted lovers were posting.
If you’re going to say something about someone or post a photo of them, think who you would react if the situation were reversed. If you wouldn’t be ok with it then it’s probably wrong.
In the UK there is the Data Protection Act to ensure personal information is never shared or stored by a company or organisation for any longer than is necessary. Other countries have similar laws to keep people’s information safe.
The internet will continue to change, as will its laws, but these fundamental points will always be in place.
It pays to remember that not everyone online is as honest as you are and there are some quite unscrupulous people at every turn who might try and rip you off or take advantage of you in some way. Remember it’s a lot like the real world and you should tread carefully at all times.
That being said it’s very easy to adhere to basic internet law for the majority of people. Just always be aware and if something doesn’t feel right morally then it’s more likely than not not right legally either.