Legal Issues on the Web

Primarily two legal considerations dominate Web law discourse.  The first is Libel.  The second is Copyright.  Libel occurs when one individual publishes false and insulting comments in a mean or careless manner with the intent of causing injury to another.  Copyright infringement occurs when one individual publishes work, other than their own, without the creators permission.

Ignorance of the law should not be accepted as an adequate legal defense.  I do, however, believe that this is one of those rare situations where a double standard is preferable.   Those individuals in occupational fields or positions that have a great deal of professional web interaction, should be held to a higher standard than the casual or recreational user of the web.  Professional web designers, publishers, lawyers, e-retailers and wholesalers and the like, because of the nature of their occupation, should be subject to stiffer penalties for web-based infractions than the recreational blogger or social networker.  

Journalist especially, including reporters, professional bloggers, columnists, and the like should be held to the highest standard of all professions.  Their role in our society as the guardians of information make it simply unacceptable for them to be involved in libelous or deceptive activity.      

One of the dominant themes coming from the discourse on web law is the accountability of social networks and other websites with user based content.  If a user posts libelous or copyrighted content, to what degree are the web service providers responsible. 

I suggest none at all.  Are Rustoleum or Krylon responsible for graffiti in the inner cities?  Should these spray paint manufacturers  be tasked with inner city clean-up projects?  Blogs and Social networks provide the exact same service as Bic or Sharpie or Crayola.  They simply provide a medium for personal expression.  They are no more responsible for how their product is used than these other organizations.

 However, the nature of the medium does provide for some opportunities.  It would be quite impractical for Crayola to come take your crayons away if you write or draw libelous material.  However, it is not that difficult for web service providers to remove inappropriate posts, edit content, or restrict user privileges.  Removing inappropriate content from their site is the socially responsible thing for web service providers to do.  However, the degree to which they monitor and edit content should, within reason, be left to the discretion of the web service provider based upon their standards and resources.

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in a web law primer.  Despite learning some enlightening  legal facts, I doubt it will have any significant impact on my web life .  Few of my past web-behaviors concern me.  I do not expect to initiate any behavioral changes at this time.

My manners prevent me from publishing any false, malicious, derogatory or injurious comments or images on the web.  They would not just be destructive to someone elses reputation but to my own as well. 

Reproducing images that have been “liberated” from another individuals web presence runs rampant across the internet.  The practice is so prevalent that web users should almost assume that whatever they post becomes a part of the public domain.  I realize that this it not how the law would see it.  The images or comments are the property of the original creator, as it should be.  Because of the nature of the web, users should share in some responsibility if they have a desire in protecting their rights of reproduction.  Web viewers should never assume that any image or post is the intellectual property of the poster unless specifically identified as such.  Far too many images are “shared” and far to many comments are “forwarded”.  Legal consequences should only follow if another’s images or content are used to generate gains or if the use causes injury or loss to the original creator. 

It is unlikely that this “sharing” trend will change anytime soon.  The web contains so much information that, even with sophisticated search engines, identifying copyright infringements is like finding a needle in a haystack.  If the needle is found, litigation costs are prohibitive.  Even if resources exist to initiate litigation, proving damages is no easy tasks.  Even if damages can be proven, does the offender possess the resources to reimburse for damages?  It doesn’t make much sense for the prince to seek damages from the pauper if it will cost him more than he could possibly gain.   


About Jesse Alber

Jesse Alber attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Communications with an Athletic Coaching Endorsement from Hastings College in May, 1993. From 1994 - 2000, Alber served in leadership roles in human resources, retail, and production. Alber enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2000. He served as a Armored Cavalry Scout and Troop Training Manager with A 3/7 CAV 3d ID until 2004. Alber deployed to Bosnia in 2001 and Kwait / Iraq in 2003. Alber served in the Army Reserves from 2005 - 2008. From 2004 - 2010 Alber served as the Adult Education Coordinator for Central Community College and Executive Director for the Hastings Literacy Program. Alber returned to Hastings College in 2010 to study Computer Science and Web Design. He is currently emploed as a Programming and Web Development Intern with Servi-Tech Industries. Alber will complete his program of study in the summer of 2012.
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