The law and the Internet – Wild west or not?

Although some people seem to think otherwise, the Internet is not outside the law. In fact the Net is regulated by the same laws that apply to communication or trade in any medium, and anyone using it should be aware that they could find themselves breaking the law if they are not careful.

The reason why some people call the internet a ‘modern Wild West’ is not because there are no laws, but because it is often difficult to enforce those laws that do apply, a consequence of the Net’s global nature. If someone in the United Kingdom publishes a libelous claim about you on their website, you would find it very difficult to prosecute them because they aren’t in the United States.

You may not even know exactly who had published the material or where their web server was. However if you’re living and working in the U.S., you must observe the relevant laws which are being observed more stringently by an increasingly net-savvy police force.

Most companies, and particularly large organisations, are careful to ensure that nothing on their websites is in breach of the law in any of the countries where it can be read. If you’re publishing anything on the Internet – that includes email, bulletin boards and websites – then you should understand the legal position, as ignorance of the law will not be much of a defense if you end up in court.

Increasingly, there are moves to make websites subject to the laws of the countries they are viewable in – in other words, the laws of all states could apply to your website. Better safe than sorry – if you are really out on a limb, give it some thought!

See also…

Internet Law – Forum