laws every Internet user needs to know

laws-every-internet-user-needs-to-knowDespite what you may have heard, the Web is not the Wild West. This isn’t ‘Nam, as TheBig Lebowski‘s Walter Sobchak so wisely proclaimed. There are rules. And to be a responsible Web citizen, it is important for us to understand what these rules are. To get a better sense of the legal landscape, we spoke with Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who provided his insights on the handful of laws every Internet users needs to know.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

What it is: Enacted in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) is the primary law governing the use of copyrighted content in the U.S. It establishes a system for removing copyrighted works that are being used improperly, and dictates who’s responsible when this happens (as it so often does).

Why it’s good: “By far, the best part of DMCA is its ‘safe harbor’ provisions, which basically states that websites aren’t liable for for the copyright infringement of their users, as long as they meet certain requirements,” says Timm. “That part of the DMCA is what has allowed companies like Google and Facebook to thrive over the last decade.”

Why it’s bad: The takedown system of DMCA is good in that it requires rightsholders to go after specific pieces of copyrighted content, says Timm. “But the problem is, it can be abused — it’s being abused more than it ever has in history, right now.” This is because websites must take down content for a certain period of time, regardless of the validity of the claim, in order to securely keep their safe harbor protections. As a result, websites “always err on the side of the copyright holder,” says Timm, which can lead to legitimate free speech being censored for as much as two weeks without recourse — plenty of time to keep bad information out of the news cycle.

Law in action: Your YouTube video is taken offline because it includes a Justin Bieber track playing in the background.

Bottom line: DMCA has its faults — but it’s much better than some of the alternatives that have come before Congress.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986

What it is: Enacted in 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) extended the prohibition of government wiretap laws from phone lines to computers. The law governs everything from email to instant messages to cloud storage files.

Why it’s good: ECPA is a good example of the government doing the right thing to protect its citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Why it’s bad: “It was written before the World Wide Web was invented,” says Timm, so it’s now woefully out of date. For example, ECPA mandates that an online communication or file that’s held by a third-party (like Google, Facebook, or Dropbox) for more than 180 days is “abandoned,” since, at the time it was written, Web-based email was still a novelty. But because of this provision, your six-month-old communications and files may be accessed by the courts with only a subpoena rather than a probable-cause warrant.

Law in action: Law enforcement agents gain access to the last three years of your Gmail communications as a routine part of an investigation.

Bottom line: A number of Congressmen are working to update ECPA to eliminate the 180-day abandonment provision, which would in turn require police and prosecutors to obtain a warrant before snooping your chat logs. (more…)

Internet Law

Internet-LawThe Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) to serve billions of users worldwide.  It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private and public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope that are linked by a broad array of electronic and optical networking technologies.  The Internet carries a vast array of information resources and services, most notably the inter-linked hypertext documents of the World Wide Web (WWW) and the infrastructure to support electronic mail.

The Internet opened up an entirely new area of law, dealing with new matters, not previously know and some although known, are dealth with differently on the Internet.

If you use the Internet, do business on the Internet or simply, or are simply interested working or playing on the Internet, you should have some knowledge of laws that may effect you. Find more info for internet law here