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learn everything you need to know about Internet Law

Internet Law: Everything You Need To Know

By John DiGiacomo

What is Internet law?

Internet law refers to the legislation and legal principles that are in place regarding the use of the Internet in all forms.

Unlike other law fields, Internet law cannot be identified as a specific, stable, and solid field of practice. It instead applies principles and incorporates rules from a number of different traditional fields, including contract law and privacy law.

Internet law can include topics like how to link web pages, how to resolve conflicts over domain names, how trademarks are used across the web, governing Internet service providers, and website creation.

When you consider the fact that the internet is evolving at a rapid pace, common law or precedent is not enough to create the laws. This means that there is a greater amount of uncertainty.

Why is Internet law a special case?

Internet laws need to be flexible enough to cover a huge number of theoretical possibilities and real possibilities because of the complexity and breadth of the internet. Plus, as the internet is a global platform, so this means that a single country’s government is not able to enforce the laws governing the web. A lot of people, therefore, believe that the internet should have an independent set of legislation and be governed as if it was a land of its own.

Different types of internet regulation

The internet is greatly censored in a number of countries around the world. Good examples include Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China. Aside from censorship, there were four ways that the internet tends to be governed. These are as follows:

Markets – The online marketplace and the fluctuations within it have an impact on what happens online. Unpopular behaviors or concepts will eventually disappear because they are not in demand. Plus, if there is demand but supply far outweighs this, sellers must provide more unique or distinct solutions. This can incentivize self-regulation, creativity, and ethical behavior.

Norms – As is the case in all areas of our life, cultural norms will govern our human behavior. When there are gaps that have been left because of insufficient formal regulations, our cultural norms can help. A good example of this is when you see an unacceptable or offensive comment posted online and you delete it.

Architecture – Architecture is a term that is used to describe the internet’s limitations when it comes to technology. It relates to everything that has an impact on how data is transmitted over the internet, including coding, encryption, filters, and search engines.

Laws – Finally, we, of course, have laws. Legislation is needed to manage policy, shape behavior, and handle all of the common issues relating to internet use. Internet law is particularly important when it comes to the likes of fraud, child pornography, and gambling. However, determining how to prosecute for such offences is the main issue. This is because it is hard to enforce offences when all of the countries using the Internet operate by different rules and regulations.

Policies concerning online marketing

The government was not equipped to deal with legal problems when online companies first started to develop. However, the law has caught up and we are now at a stage whereby the vast majority of businesses have some sort of online presence. The Federal Trade Commission is the official consumer Watchdog in this area. It deals with matters such as unfair competition, and deceptive and unfair marketing.

Deceptive and unfair marketing does differ based on the context of the content. However, it generally relates to the following:

– Making the current price seem like a bargain by tagging a higher ‘original price’

– Sending off unauthorized promotional texts

– Soliciting information by using tricky pop-ups

– Using billing addresses and credit cards without authorization

– Not labeling tags for paid advertisements (#ad)

– Releasing information about a customer without their consent

– Disguising ads so that they look like standard website material

– Fooling internet users into repeated billing situations

– Attempting to prevent negative feedback, as this goes against freedom of speech

– Purchasing website reviews or making fake news websites

– Making assertions relating to health that are not backed up by scientific or medical proof

– Falsely labeling something as ‘all natural’

– Describing rare results as typical results

– Making statements that are not true (lying)


What websites should do

– Do not start a new enterprise with a different name if you have been investigated by the FTC

– Do not abandon a crowd-sourced project, and if you do, make sure you refund all money that was collected

– Accept liability for freelance marketers

– Be clear about disclosures

– Be transparent regarding endorsements, sponsorships, and partnerships

Official policies that govern online marketing

  • FTC Bizopp Rules
  • Native Advertising Guidelines
  • Dot Com Disclosures
  • Can-SPAM Act
  • TCPA
  • Section 5 of the FTC Act

Intellectual property

Other individuals cannot earn money, steal, or manipulate your original content. Copyright laws are in place to make sure that this is the case. It is a good idea to post trademark signs and copyright badges on your website to act as a deterrent so that people do not misuse your work.

You can also stop cybersquatting, which is the process of purchasing a domain name with a company slogan, by formally registering your domain name. Of course, this is not an easy process because there are now many different URL endings aside from .com that people can purchase.

Basic principle

  • Online piracy is not allowed.
  • You should consult with a lawyer if you use the name of your competition in an AdWord marketing ploy, even though this is legally allowed. You need to make sure you get the wording correct.
  • Formally register your work via copyright through the Patent and Trademark Office in the United States. You should also register via any equivalent services in your state.
  • Avoid plagiarism, even if you are spinning an article.
  • Receive formal acceptance from any ghostwriter that you have exclusive rights to their work once the writing is complete.
  • Before using any type of visual from another party, check for a fair use agreement or creative commons agreement.
  • You cannot steal a patent, trademark, or copyright, and you certainly cannot earn money by doing so either.

Internet Law Development and Legislation

No Electronic Theft Act – This means you need to respect copyright, irrespective of whether profit is your goal or not.

Uniform Domain Dispute Resolution Process – This resolves and stops disputes regarding domain names.

Fair Use Doctrine – This enables you to represent other works if you are criticizing or reflecting on them.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – Seeks the global expansion of copyright laws.

Anti Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) – This stops you from purchasing/obtaining domain names that represent another lawful entity.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act – This is a copyright law in the United States, which utilizes two of the World Intellectual property Organization treatises from 1996.

Trademark Act 1946/Lanham Act – This allows exclusive claims to trademarks that have been registered.

Some other acts that are worth noting include the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, the Right of Publicity Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Online defamation and Internet laws

Libel is governed by both federal and state defamation laws, as is slander. Slander refers to spoken defamation whereas libel is written defamation. You should bear in mind these principles:

– For famous people, the rules differ. There must be a higher standard of evidence for cases involving those in the public eye.

– Libel can sometimes be redacted or removed from Internet forums.

– Truth can be used as a defence in cases of libel and slander but there are some exceptions.

– Online libel cases often reach a resolution without a court case being required.

– An anonymous author’s identity can sometimes be uncovered if there is a libel lawsuit.

– Under the law in the United States, opinion is not necessarily libel or slander. However, if manipulations of the truth or untruths have been mixed with opinion, then this can be deemed defamation.

– In order to win a libel case, you need to show that the claim was negligent, harmful, and false.

Online privacy and Internet laws

Freedom of speech and privacy can often be at odds with one another. This is especially the case when you consider that freedom of speech is granted by the First Amendment yet privacy is not addressed in the US constitution. Privacy can get in the way to freedom of speech and this can lead to a feeling of unwanted censorship. However, there are pieces of legislation that protect privacy to a degree.

For example, if an ex-partner was to post an illicit photograph of someone online without their permission there are porn revenge laws in place to deal with this.

There are also a number of different policies that govern private data use in specific areas, for example, the Financial Modernization Act, HIPAA, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Business owners may also be held liable by the FTC if they do not take steps to stop hacking.

In California, there are further online privacy laws, and you must abide by these requirements if you have a commercial site within the state.

Data use notices

If you collect personal data on your website, there needs to be a data use notice. The notice should outline the use and the reason for collecting data, as well as stating any data that is collected through hidden programs or cookies.

If the data is collected for business or promotional purposes, the user must give their consent. The same applies if it is used for any other reason that does not serve the consumer. Businesses will usually add an opt-in option on their website for this.

Internet Laws governing online privacy

  • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
  • The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

Internet Law in the United Kingdom

Electronic commerce regulations

The European E-commerce Directive was brought into law in the United Kingdom in 2002. This is a collection of regulations regarding electronic commerce. The purpose of this was to outline that electronic contracts are bound within the law and to control online commerce behavior across Europe.

The directive is designed specifically for companies who sell on the Internet, by text, or by email. It is also applicable to companies that advertise using these mediums, as well as those providing communication platforms online and storing content for customers on the Internet.

The directive outlines the marketing rules that you need to adhere to and the information clients must know about your company. One of the stipulations is that all promos cannot appear like plain content and that they should be recognizable. They need to reveal what the offer is and the business it pertains to.

Moreover, terms and conditions and online contracts must be printable. Spam has also been addressed, which relates to those ads that are typically unwelcome and unwanted. As per the directive, the subject line of an email should be enough for someone to determine whether the message is spam or not. Spam text messages are not covered.

The Data Protection Act of 1998

The Data Protection Act in the UK deals with information that is processed concerning living people. It relates to any information that spans a person’s life. For example, the act is responsible for governing websites that collect personal information about people.

If a person can be identified by the information, then it will be governed in this act. This includes the likes of personal perspectives, past event data, and contact information. Under the DPA, encryption is advised to maintain data security, and you are directed to only keep such data for the shortest length of time needed for its purpose to be achieved.

Creating Website Agreements

A website agreement is a contract between the user of the site and the owner of the site. It can also be called a disclaim, privacy policy, “terms of service” (TPS), or “terms of use” (TOU). You should make sure this has been crafted specifically for your website, rather than using a generic template.

You could even be breaching the copyright law if you copy another website’s terms. Consulting with an experienced attorney is recommended so you know the laws and your rights concerning domain names, photos, infringement, missing data, scams, frauds, and more.

Recent US Internet Law Developments

Governments, policymakers, and lawyers regularly assess recent cases that have happened so that they can determine what to do about new conflicts. Below, we will take a look at some of the recent developments that have had an impact on internet law.

Freedom of speech

In the US, the first Amendment of the US Constitution grants the public freedom of speech. The US Supreme Court has recognized online freedom of speech as a positive and healthy attribute. The Internet has given people all over the world opportunity to express their opinions, which is critical when you consider that freedom of speech is not granted to all people in all countries across the globe. Because of this, the web has been deemed a springboard for political movements, for example, Arab Spring.

Nevertheless, a lot of the countries that attempt to restrict freedom of speech often put a method in place to censor Internet use. For example, Internet sites are blocked from the civilians in China, and there are similar movements taking place in countries like Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Singapore.

When talking about freedom of speech as a legal concept, the themes and issues that it tends to have an impact on include terrorism, harassment, bullying, fraud, data collection, and privacy.

Patents policy

In 2011, the America Invents Act was created by Congress and this led to a patent reform. Congress has also been looking at other ways that they can go about shutting down abusive patent enforcement. Outside of Congress, attorneys have brought cases against individuals sending letters enforcing patents, and the state of Vermont has put a law in place to prevent patent trolling.

Social media and government employees

A lack of professionalism and sharing too much information on social media has resulted in government employees getting into trouble. There has even been the question of whether those working for the government should lose their job if they speak out against their employer on social media. When you consider that we rely on government officials to apply policies without any bias, you see why such posts can have terrible consequences.

Copyright changes

In US law, section 512 indicates that the website owner should be responsible for copyright infringement that has been created by a user, whereas another section of the law indicates that they should not be. There are a number of issues relating to this, unsurprisingly. A good example of this would be the Grooveshark case whereby the date of the material meant that the website could not be deemed responsible for copyright infringement that the user made.

Lessening of keyword advertising

When it comes to keyword advertising lawsuits, they very rarely have successful results in the courtroom or monetarily. It is unlikely that keyword advertising lawsuits will be much of a concern going forward. The Florida state bar has even closed the possibility of banning lawyers from utilizing keyword advertising. Not only this but a publicity rights concern case was rejected in Wisconsin and Google has almost resolved all trademark challenges pertaining to AdWords.

The Federal Trade Commission Internet crackdown

The Federal Trade Commission in the United States has been creating agreements of consent with larger social media companies and Internet businesses like Facebook and Google. They started working with disingenuous material, including advertisements that appear like plain text, which are known as native ads, as well as online ads that are targeted towards children. One of the most significant cases in this regard was the one that involved Wyndham hotels.

Gmail’s decision regarding ECPA

It was deemed that the ads that Google was featuring within Gmail accounts could be in violation of privacy law in accordance to with Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Copywriter defenders’ winnings

There have been several victories for copyright defendants lately and this could inspire defences in the future. This includes the ruling to prevent global price discrimination for copyright holders.

Unlawful access to data

Although there are some exceptions, it is deemed an offence to access communications information on purpose without any permission or to go beyond the authorisation that has been given to you. It is also illegal to stop, change, or receive permitted access to information.

Liability with regards to online material

Telecommunications businesses are usually not held liable for any of the damages that happen due to information that has been shared or stored using their service.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act

This act was developed in 1986. It states certain activities that are restricted by the government. For example, monitoring communications that have been sent by a computer and recording phone calls. This change had an impact on other regulations, for example, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets act.

Ethics surrounding technology and science law articles

Whether an expert or attorney discussing legal questions regarding technology and science is accountable for what their writing implicates is questionable. This includes articles about data, computer software, chemical law, biotechnology, and more.

Police officer footage

When riots have taken place throughout the country, the question of whether filming or capturing police officers is legal or not as be imposed.

Computer crime and hackers

You may or may not be liable if someone enters your computer system, whether physically or virtually, and utilizes it to do things that are not legal. This is something that is very much case-specific.

Privacy on social media

Sharing our lives is something that has been welcomed thanks to the dominance of social media. Equally, the social media entity and the public are responsible for ensuring that a person’s security and privacy are preserved. Boundaries have been put in place to protect privacy, for instance, while someone may be able to share the country in which they reside, exact addresses are not displayed.

Naming others

When naming another person online, whether in a blog or website, there is a considerable legal risk. You can be liable for what you write.

Photograph copyright demands

In recent times, businesses that have authored shared photographs have claimed copyright, and tried to hold other people accountable for utilizing their work.

Security protocol

Apple were ordered by a Californian federal magistrate to turn over phone data for a case relating to the San Bernardino shooting. This was when it was discovered that data relating to the incident could be traced via an iPhone 5. A lot of people, including the FBI, were against this anti-privacy ruling.


Cybersquatting is a term that is used to describe when a person buys a domain name that signifies a company or entity that is already established. This is done for the purpose of selling the domain name at a later date to earn money. In the United States, this is illegal.

Internet sex crimes

If someone has committed a sex crime using the web, they can be convicted. This includes individuals who create profiles to get attention, as well as people who are involved in the creation and distribution of child pornography.

Cell phone tracking dismissed

There was a recent court case in New York whereby the evidence that was presented related to information that had come from a cell phone tracking device. The court case hinged on this evidence, however, it was not considered in the case because the judge ruled it out. It was determined that information gathered using such intimate technology should not be allowed, and this is something that will have an impact on the cases of a similar nature in the future.

Photo sharing law

Today, it is common for people to share photographs of themselves and their loved ones on social media websites. However, there have been incidents whereby people steal photographs and then post them elsewhere on the Internet, requesting funds for the photograph to be removed. Situations like this can be very challenging to resolve. This is especially the case when you consider that the person who has stolen the photograph may be in another country.

Net neutrality

Net neutrality is a term that is used to describe a collection of policies that regulate behavior between Internet telecommunications. Internet telecommunications refers to the networks and pathways through which information is managed, set up, and passed by big businesses.

The communication of data and information happens in small packets, which are transmitted through the infrastructures that are run by institutions, governments, and telecommunication businesses. If there is net neutrality policy in place in one state that regulates how information is received or sent then it can have a ripple effect and impact on another state, which makes this a challenging area of Internet law.

Updated and Outdated Internet Law Legislation

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

This was designed to control and manifest copyright rules online. The DMCA permits businesses to send notices when someone has broken their policy, urging them to take the copyrighted material down. Most of the time people will do this because they do not want to go to court. It can be used against the following:

  • Visually impaired individuals who use special programs
  • YouTube users whose videos incorporate music that is copyrighted playing in the background
  • Music creators who use pre-recorded titles to do an experimental music mix
  • Researchers that have discovered a security issue but cannot release their findings
  • Teachers using copyright materials for educated purposes

Because of this, a lot of people believe freedom of speech is being impeded through this act.

The amount of online crime today

A lot of people commit crimes on the Internet, despite the security screenings, regulations, and policies that are in place. With so many financial transactions and business transactions taking place on the web, this means that it is a prime territory for criminal activities. Additionally, as mentioned, when you consider that rules differ from nation to nation, a lot of people use this as a loophole to get away with certain activities.

Pop Internet laws

The public has come up with their own “laws” due to the use and abuse of the World Wide Web. While called pop Internet laws, they should not be confused with actual legislation. Some examples include:

  • The Law of Exclamation
  • Cohen’s Law
  • DeMyer’s Law
  • Pommer’s Law
  • Danth’s Law
  • Scopie’s Law
  • Skitt’s Law
  • Rule 34 and 35
  • Godwin’s Law

Poe’s Law is probably the most famous of them. This “law” states that a winking smiley must be used alongside fundamentalist mocking, otherwise people will think that the poster is serious.

Internet Cyberlaw policy organizations

As policymakers, lawyers, and global businesses try to decipher and introduce new cyber law practices, there have been a number of organizations that have been set up relating to this. This includes the following:

Internet Society (ISOC) – This was created in 1992. It provides leadership training for Internet-related policy, education, and standards. It inspires growth and development, helping people to utilize the web to their advantage.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – The EFF was developed in 1990. It has stopped new devices preventing the loss of freedom. It defends digital rights, consumer rights, innovation, privacy, and free speech.

Adult Internet Law – gives adult companies legal advice, ensuring they are protected from risk.

To discuss your specific Internet Law issue with one of our Internet Attorneys, use the form on this page, or call 855-473-8474.

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