Internet Law - Guide to Cyberspace Law




Internet Law, or Cyberlaw as it is sometimes called, refers to the legal issues related to the use of the Internet. It is less a distinct field of law than a conglomeration of intellectual property law, contract law, privacy laws, and many other fields, and how they pertain to the use of the Internet.

Unique Nature of Cyberlaw

If there can be laws that could govern the Internet, then such laws will require a unique structure to grapple with the international and ethereal nature of the web. Many argue the Internet is not actually “regulable” at all, while others argue that not only can it be regulated but substantial bodies of law already exist. Since the Internet is not geographically bound, national laws can not apply globally. A few international agreements exist, but some have argued that the Internet should be allowed to self-regulate as its own "nation."

Internet Regulation

Aside from blatant censorship of the Internet in nations like China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran, there are four primary modes of regulation of the internet: Laws, Architecture, Norms, and Markets.

1. Laws are the most obvious form of regulation. As various states, countries, and international groups attempt to grapple with issues raised by the use of the Internet, they normally effect their policies through the implementation of laws. Such regulations govern areas like gambling, child pornography, and fraud. Of course, the shortcoming of laws are their limited geographical scope. After all, should internet sites hosted in foreign countries but available globally have to comply with varying, and sometimes conflicting, laws in every corner of the globe?

2. Architecture refers to how information literally can and cannot be transmitted across the Internet. This can refer to everything from internet filtering software, to firewalls, to encryption programs, and even the very basic structure of internet transmission protocols, like TCP/IP. In many ways, this is the most fundamental form of Internet regulation, and all other areas of Cyberlaw must relate to or rely upon it in some fashion since it is, quite literally, how the Internet is made.

3. Norms refer to the ways in which people interact with one another. Just as social norms govern what is and is not appropriate in regular society, norms also affect behavior across the Internet. In other words, while laws may fail to regulate certain activities allowed by the architecture of the internet, social norms may allow the users to control such conduct. For example, many online forums allow users to moderate comments made by other users. Comments found to be offensive or off topic can be flagged and removed. This is a form of norm regulation.

4. Similar to norm regulation is market regulation. Market regulation controls patterns of conduct on the internet through the traditional economic principles of supply and demand. If something is unpopular, it will lack a demand and eventually fail. On the other hand, if there is too much supply, then competitors will eventually have to find ways to differentiate themselves or become obscured by the competition. This helps to prevent predatory conduct, drive innovation, and forces websites to self-regulate in order to retain customers and remain viable.

Net Neutrality

Another major area of interest in Internet Law is net neutrality. Net neutrality refers to regulations of the infrastructure of the Internet, itself. Every piece of information transmitted across the internet is broken into what are called “packets” of data, then passed through routers and transmission infrastructure owned by a variety of private and public entities, like telecommunications companies, universities, and government agencies. This has become a major area of concern in recent years, because changes to laws affecting this infrastructure in one jurisdiction could have a ripple effect, changing how information is sent and received in other jurisdictions whether those areas would otherwise be subject to the jurisdiction of the country implementing the new law or not.

Free Speech on the Internet

While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans a right to free speech, this is not so in other nations around the globe. The Internet has allowed those living in many repressive countries, where free speech is not a right, to rely upon the cloak of anonymity granted by the Internet to have their voices heard. The rise of the Internet has been credited, in part, as the cause of many of the political movements around the world seeking greater access and equality, such as the “Arab Spring” incidents.

Of course, this leads to an inevitable backlash in the form of internet censorship. China is one of the most staunch in its efforts to filter unwanted parts of the internet from its citizens, but many other countries, like Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, have also engaged in such censorship.

Other Areas of Internet Law

Other topics that have been affected by the rise of the Internet, or which appear to be on the horizon, include areas such as privacy, intelligence gathering, fraud, cyberbullying, and cyberterrorism. As quickly as technology evolves, so too will the various legal issues presented by these innovations.

For more information about Internet Law, please visit the resources below. You can also find an attorney in your area who can help you with your specific question or concern by visiting our Law Firms page.

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  • How Do The Law and Social Media Intersect?

    With social networking such a huge part of our lives, are there any social media laws? How are common legal issues resolved when they occur in a social network?

  • Is it Legal for Someone to Post my Private Photos Then Demand Money for Their Removal?

    Over the last few years, a number of unscrupulous websites have developed around Americans' increasing comfort with sharing private, intimate photos with one another. While the photos are usually not intended for public consumption, often after a rough breakup or other event in which the recipient is left unhappy, that person will post those photos for the world to see. But is this legal? More importantly, can the site where the photos are posted legally charge you to take them down?

Articles on HG.org Related to Internet Law

  • What Does the Law Say About Using Someone's Webcam or Computer Microphone to Spy on Them?
    In our modern, connected age, it seems everyone has a tablet or laptop computer that they use on a daily basis. These computers usually have built in webcams and microphones which, while very useful for legitimate purposes like video calls, can also be a vehicle for embarrassment, identity theft, and spying on your most intimate moments. So, what does the law have to say about using someone's webcam or computer microphone to spy on them?
  • Is it Legal for Someone to Post my Private Photos Then Demand Money for Their Removal?
    Over the last few years, a number of unscrupulous websites have developed around Americans' increasing comfort with sharing private, intimate photos with one another. While the photos are usually not intended for public consumption, often after a rough breakup or other event in which the recipient is left unhappy, that person will post those photos for the world to see. But is this legal? More importantly, can the site where the photos are posted legally charge you to take them down?
  • Do Real World Laws Apply to Virtual World Problems?
    Everyday, millions of people login from all over the world to experience various virtual worlds. Some are part of a video game, others are intended to allow for social interactions, and still others include elements for commercial dealings. Whatever the purpose, any environment in which people interact can lead to friction and disagreements of various sorts. This has led many to ask whether the laws of the real world can or should apply to virtual world problems.
  • Is There a Law Against Cyberstalking or Cyberharassment?
    With the rise of social networking, many have lost some of their concerns about personal privacy. Indeed, millions of Americans share the intimate details of their lives with an audience of dozens to thousands to sometimes even millions of people everyday, and think nothing of it. But what happens when someone begins to use this information against you? Are they violating any laws by following you online or bothering you on the Internet?
  • How Do The Law and Social Media Intersect?
    Finding someone who does not have a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or other social media profile is getting harder to do. Granted, there are still a few stalwart holdouts, but the vast majority of Americans use social media everyday (in fact, you may have come across this article in your social media feed). With social networking such a huge part of our lives, are there any social media laws? How are common legal issues resolved when they occur in a social network?
  • Every Book Ever Written Soon to be Searchable on the Internet Thanks to Fair Use Doctrine
    Virtually anyone who has used the Internet outside of China has heard of the search engine giant Google (China blocks Google and has its own domestic search engine). But, many did not know that in 2002, one of Google's founders, Larry Page, had a plan to put every book ever written on the Internet. The plan stalled after legal troubles, but may now be back on track thanks to the Fair Use Doctrine.
  • Can Dating Sites Post Fake Profiles to Lure In Members?
    It is the end of a long week, and you find yourself at home wishing you had something to do. But, tired of being a fifth wheel to all of your friends in relationships, you decide it is time to join the millions of other people who are online looking for a date. Unfortunately, some of those millions may not be real people after all. Is it legal for dating sites to use fake content to lure in new members?
  • Defamation: What it is and How to Deal with It
    Defamation is when someone tells one or more persons an untruth about you, and that untruth harms your reputation. Defamation is the general term, while slander and libel refer to particular types of defamation. Libel is a written defamation, and slander is verbal. There are three key factors to consider when deciding whether a defamatory statement should be taken to court.
  • Bipartisan Bill Looks to Crack Down on Rogue Websites
    A bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced legislation intended to combat the illegal distribution of counterfeit goods via rogue websites hosted overseas. The proposed bill greatly expands protections for intellectual property (IP) and, if passed, would bring sweeping changes to copyright law.
  • Facebook Pictures and Privacy Concerns with Facial Recognition Technology
    Face Recognition Technology
  • All Science and Technology Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Science and Technology including: biotechnology, chemical law, computer and software, data protection, information technology, internet law, research and development, telecommunications law.

Internet Law - US

  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act

    The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA Pub. L. 99-508, Oct. 21, 1986, 100 Stat. 1848, 18 U.S.C. § 2510)[2] was enacted by the United States Congress to extend government restrictions on wire taps from telephone calls to include transmissions of electronic data by computer. Specifically, ECPA was an amendment to Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (the Wiretap Statute), which was primarily designed to prevent unauthorized government access to private electronic communications.

  • Limitations on Liability Relating to Material Online

    A service provider shall not be liable for monetary relief, or, except as provided in subsection (j), for injunctive or other equitable relief, for infringement of copyright by reason of the provider’s transmitting, routing, or providing connections for, material through a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider, or by reason of the intermediate and transient storage of that material in the course of such transmitting, routing, or providing connections.

  • Protection for Piivate Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material

    The rapidly developing array of Internet and other interactive computer services available to individual Americans represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to our citizens.

  • Unlawful Access to Stored Communications

    Offense - Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section whoever: (1) intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided; or (2) intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility; and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

Organizations Related to Internet Law

  • Adult Internet Law

    The primary goal of AdultInternetLaw.com is to provide you with the legal advice you need. We want to make sure you are positioned to maximize the potential of your adult business while guarding against unnecessary risk. To accomplish this, you need to avoid many of the pitfalls that come with inexperience. We help you with this in a number of ways.

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

    From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990 — well before the Internet was on most people's radar — and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.

  • Internet Society (ISOC)

    The Internet Society (ISOC) is a nonprofit organisation founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet related standards, education and policy. We are dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of people throughout the world.

Publications Related to Internet Law

  • ACLU - Internet Censorship

    The ACLU's vision of an uncensored Internet was clearly shared by the U.S. Supreme Court when it declared, in Reno v. ACLU, the Internet to be a free speech zone, deserving at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to books, newspapers and magazines. The government, the court said, can no more restrict a person's access to words or images on the Internet than it could be allowed to snatch a book out of a reader's hands in the library, or cover over a statue of a nude in a museum.

  • BitLaw - Internet Law and Intellectual Property Rights

    Courts around the world are creating Internet law right now--a process that is both exciting and frightening to watch. Unlike other areas of commerce that can turn to historical traditions to help settle disputes and guide the development of the law, the law of the Internet has no history to fall back on. "Cyber law" is instead being developed by judges who must do their best to fit legal disputes on the Internet into preexisting legal frameworks. As a result, the legal principles governing conduct and commerce in cyberspace are still in a state of flux. Claims of trademark and copyright infringement have become common place items on the World Wide Web.

  • Internet Governance Forum

    This is the official Web site of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), run by the IGF Secretariat. Its purpose is to support the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) with regard to convening a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue - the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The site provides an interactive, collaborative space where all stakeholders can air their views and exchange ideas.


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