Business Law

Cyber Law: Managing the Electronic Frontier

The internet is a wondrous place. Millions of people across the globe use it everyday to communicate, shop and entertain themselves. They also use it to make money. Employees use it daily to do their jobs, and small businesses and giant corporations use it to sell their products and services.

With all this activity and interaction, there's always the potential for legal problems, and lawmakers struggle to keep up with the fast and furious pace of today's technology.

What is "Cyber Law"

Cyber law describes the legal issues related to the use of inter-networked information technology, namely millions of computers linked together. It covers many areas of law.

There is no single authority governing the cyber world. With the rapid expansion of the internet, governments across the world have recognized the need to make it safe and secure, as well as to control or regulate how it may be used.

Courts around the world are creating internet law. Cyber law is being developed by judges who must do their best to fit legal disputes on the internet into the legal frameworks used before the dawn of the internet.

Fights Over Domain Names

In the domain name arena, there has been litigation where well known companies with trademarked names fight individuals who attempt to profit from the internet. They do this by reserving and later reselling or licensing domain names that contain the companies' trademarked games.

The companies lose sales and profits to the sham web sites, while the people who sell and buy the domain names reap the profits.

Security: Protecting Information

Commercial transactions over the internet raise security issues because sensitive information is sent, received and stored on computers and servers. Collection of consumer data and protection of that data from misuse or theft is a major concern of consumers and businesses.

Recent advances in computer technology make it possible for detailed information about people to be compiled and shared more easily and cheaply than ever. As personal information becomes more accessible, companies must take precautions to protect against the misuse of information.

Protecting Your Business Information

Your company can protect internal proprietary data and company trade secrets from unauthorized use or access through the use of firewalls. Firewalls are usually a collection of software and hardware that place an enhanced level of security on the file structure of an internet computer system. A firewall allows others to access information of your choosing while at the same time limiting access to other areas of your computer network.

Trademark, Service Mark and Intellectual Property

The legal principles governing conduct and commerce in cyberspace are constantly changing with claims of trademark and copyright infringement becoming common.

Care should be given when posting information on your company web site that might belong to someone else. Make sure you establish the copyright status before using the material. Republishing material may require getting a license from the person or company who owns the intellectual property right.

Privacy Policy

Your company should have a privacy policy in place, and it should follow the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) online privacy recommendations. Generally, under the FTC guidelines, a privacy policy should contain statements relating to notice, choice, access and security.

Caution should be taken to very carefully follow your own privacy policy. The FTC will take action on behalf of consumers if a web site purports to protect personal information and then later sells or distributes the information to third parties.

Special Rules for Children

Web sites collecting information from children under the age of 13 are required to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Generally, you have to let parents know what personal information you're collecting from their children and get the parents' consent before collecting that information.

Web Site Hosting Agreements

When your web site is run or "hosted" on someone else's computer or server, you should have a web site hosting agreement. Basically, it sets out the services the host will provide to you and explain how it will keep your information secure. The agreement should cover items such as:

  • Whether the host may change your web site without your approval
  • Whether the host needs your permission to tell anyone else the number of visits to your web site
  • The technical details about the host's internet servers, including technology updates and server down time
  • How and when you or the host may cancel the hosting agreement
  • Whether you can transfer your web site to another hosting company
  • The penalty or damages the host is required to pay if your web site's security is breached

No doubt, there's money to be made on the internet. Never before has it been so fast and easy to market goods and services to millions of people. By knowing your rights and legal duties, you can avoid costly and time-consuming legal problems and concentrate on running your business.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if I find a web site using my company's name?
  • If I pay someone to design my web site, who owns the copyright to design, me or the designer?
  • Do I get ownership of the domain name if I buy a preexisting online business?
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