WHAT IS INTERNET LAW?


Internet law deals with legal issues that have been created by the expansion of the internet.  The internet was originally created to provide a decentralized network of computers that would be able to survive a nuclear conflict.  From this defense-oriented beginning, the internet has evolved into an uncontrolled electronic world where millions of people and businesses are exchanging information and products.  The need to provide rules for the activities taking place on the internet has forced the legal systems of the world to adapt existing laws and create new laws to deal with the problems that are appearing.  This process has just begun and it will undoubtedly continue for quite some time before it reaches anything close to being complete.

There are two types of activities internet law is focusing on.  The first are activities by people who are trying to abuse other person's rights on the internet.  The ability to quickly and easily copy data on the internet has led to an increase in copyright violations and, concomitantly, the need to protect data available over the internet.  The music industry, for example, is involved in an intense effort to find ways to protect and license the use of music over the internet.  Another example is the pirating of software that that can be downloaded in a heartbeat and packaged into a new cd-rom or downloaded off the net with no benefit to the original creator.  

In addition to violations of intellectual property rights, there are hackers who break into websites and steal or destroy data.  There are also porn sites that use hidden meta tags containing the names of known movie stars or models to lure search engines to their sites.  

If all people were honest, none of the existing laws being applied in this area, or created to deal with new problems in this area, would be needed.  But the world has never been able to exist without some regulation and the internet is no different.  There will always be outlaws and bank robbers, even on the internet.  Thus, the explosion of laws dealing with electronic break-ins and violations of intellectual property rights.

The second category of people who need regulation on the internet are the honest people of the world.  They need to know the rules that govern their actions.  They need to know how much they can copy, where they get licenses, how to contract with each other, and how to protect their products.  Just as millions of people are learning how to send emails to each other and buy products on the internet, businesses are learning how to handle internet credit card transactions and deal with software and website development.  Even if people with good intentions deal with each other, disputes will arise.  Better agreements will prevent unnecessary disputes.  Rules on how disputes are resolved will help everyone spend more time on being creative and trying to make a living (or a killing) on the internet.  (So far only porn sites are making any money on the internet and there is some doubt as to whether any other business will be successful because of the internet - a commentary on both the state of the internet and on men since the number of women who visit porn sites is apparently very low.)

Governments may be disturbed that the internet is uncontrollable but the average person welcomes this electronic addition to individual access and freedom.  However, there are disturbing storm clouds.  One is privacy.  Another is the patenting of "business method patents".  What is a "BMP"?  It could be any method a business uses to operate its business.  A case in point is an auction company that has gotten a patent on its method of collating data and arriving at bids.  It is now moving in to kill its competition.  Amazon.com has gotten a patent on its "one-click" method of ordering books.  Are they going to force other internet companies from using a similar method?  Similar business method patents are being granted.  Remember, a pending patent application is secret.  Therefore, there is a two year window when patent applications are not visible to the rest of the world.  The case allowing BMPs was decided in 1998.  As a result, no one knows what's in the pipeline.  This recent evolution in internet law appears to be unfortunate because the patent concept is designed to reward inventors and protect their invention for a period of years to reward them.  BMPs seem headed toward being offensive weapons to shut down competition because a patent is a monopoly.  This will be a hot area of the internet for some time to come.

The information on internet law contained in this website is even more incomplete than other areas of the law discussed here.  What is thought to be the rule today may not be tomorrow.  Consultation with an expert in a particular field is important before making any major decision about what to do or not do on the internet to make sure you are not trying to solve today's problem with yesterday's laws.


Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann


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