Internet Law Resource Center: Statutes, Case Summaries, Standards, Definitions
If you're interested in learning more about internet law issues, keep scrolling. Below, you'll find a wealth of information on standards, rules, and case summaries.
Back when we first hung our shingle, online business was in its infancy. The government lagged behind innovation and attempts at regulation sat suspended in amber.
But here we are, nearly a decade later. The overwhelming majority of businesses maintain digital outposts. And largely, laws have caught up to invention. Below is a snapshot of those Internet business regulations -- in (semi)-listicle format.
All set? Great. Let’s do this.
Internet Law: Online Marketing
The nation's official consumer watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission investigates and fines parties for using “unfair and deceptive marketing” tactics. The agency also deals with "unfair competition."
“What constitutes ‘unfair and deceptive’ marketing?” Unfortunately, the FTC is famously mercurial so that question isn't easily answered; a lot depends on the details of a case; but certain standards are clear.
- Don’t lie or make false claims about products or services.
- Don’t characterize unusual results as normal.
- Don't label a product "all natural" if it isn't.
- Don’t make sweeping health claims that can’t be proven with solid scientific evidence.
- Don’t use fake news sites or pay for online reviews.
- Don’t try to prevent negative online reviews with contractual gag clauses.
- Don’t trick people into signing up for recurring billing scams using negative-option tactics.
- Don’t camouflage advertisements as content.
- Don’t give away customer data without getting customer authorization.
- Don’t forget to use #paid, #ad, or #spon hashtags when being compensated to promote on social media.
- Don’t charge credit cards or billing addresses without permission.
- Don’t use deceptive, data-collecting pop-ups.
- Don’t send marketing text messages without prior permission.
- Don’t forget to disclose partnerships, sponsorships, and endorsements.
- Don’t hide disclosures.
- Don’t forget that brands are responsible for the marketing actions of freelance promoters.
- Don’t abandon a crowdsourced project, and then flee with the money.
- Don’t price anchor (i.e., advertise an inflated original price to give the illusion of a deal).
- Don’t open a business under a family member’s name after losing an FTC investigation and case.
Online Marketing Guidelines, Laws, and Regulations
- Section 5 of The FTC Act
- Can-SPAM Act
Internet Law: Intellectual Property
- It’s against the law to steal, and then profit from, another party’s copyright, trademark, or patent.
- Before using a graphic on your website, check credit requirements. The only exception is a fair use application.
- Due to the nature of HTML / XHTML, it’s tough to copyright website code.
- Hire ghostwriters, but get permission to use their work -- exclusively -- once it’s completed. If not, you could find yourself entangled with a freelancer who claims to “own” the work you paid for.
- “Article spinning” has gone the way of the dinosaur, but for those still twirling words, make sure to run your work through a plagiarism checker before posting.
- Formal intellectual property registration is done through the United States Patent and Trademark Office -- plus a state entity, typically.
- Judges across the country have largely established that using competitors’ names in adword campaigns doesn’t amount to infringement. -- (Exceptions exist; talk to an attorney about your situation.)
- Curious about how online piracy became illegal? Read the story.
Rules, Laws, and Regulations Governing Online Intellectual Property
Internet Law: Online Defamation
- To win online defamation cases, plaintiffs must, at the very least, prove falsity, harm, and negligence.
- Slander is spoken defamation; libel is written defamation.
- Pure opinions are not considered defamatory under U.S. law. However, an opinion intertwined with a false statement of fact can be deemed slanderous or libelous.
- Yes, in some cases, it’s possible to uncover the name of an anonymous defamer for a libel lawsuit.
- The majority of online defamation situations are solved without having to file a full-fledged lawsuit.
- In most slander and libel lawsuits, truth is an adequate defense. Go here to read about exceptions.
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects ISPs (and website operators) from being held responsible for third-party defamation. Or, to put it another way, Section 230 is why Facebook doesn’t get sued every time an account holder posts something defamatory.
- Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible to get defamatory reviews removed -- or redacted -- from various feedback platforms.
- Different defamation rules apply for famous folks. Believe it or not, public figures must meet a higher proof standard when suing for slander or libel.
Laws That Govern Internet Defamation:
Internet Law: Online Privacy
We’re abandoning the listicle format to talk about online privacy law.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t say a word about privacy. That’s right: there’s no inalienable right to confidentiality -- online or off.
Well, an academic could expound on the topic, but for this guide, suffice it to say that privacy and free speech can sometimes slam into each other. How? Think of it this way: Free speech is the right to voice fair, truthful opinions without fear of legal retribution or government censorship. So, if the government enacts broad privacy measures, a potential corollary effect is restrictions on speculation -- a slippery slope to censorship, to be sure.
Now, does that mean you can’t sue your scoundrel ex, who, without permission, posted "intimate" pictures of you online? In most cases, you can. Revenge porn laws exist for precisely that reason. Plus, some state statutes allow for actions over the publication of unauthorized private information. For example, celebrity "Hulk Hogan" won a high-profile online privacy case, which toppled a media conglomerate.
A few federal statutes, however, govern user data protection for certain categories. Everyone must follow standards laid out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act; e-health services are tied to HIPPA’s privacy parameters; financial transactions must comply with the Financial Modernization Act (a.k.a., the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act). NOTE: California also has a complement of online privacy laws, which commercial websites accessible in the state must follow.
Did you know that the FTC can hold businesses responsible for security breaches if they don’t take proper precautions to prevent hackers? Read more about it here.