The internet was considered a wild, wild west of law ten years ago. That was when Google was just getting started and the idea of sharing music files was just a gleam in someone's eye. How things have changed. In fact, they are evolving constantly. If you own or are responsible for a site, you need to keep a close eye on your obligations.
The web is unique from a legal perspective for a number of reasons. First, there has never been a medium like it. The web is obviously virtual, which means there often isn't a physical manifestation of an item. Think of songs being traded through a site versus a CD of the band's music. The second factor that causes problems arises in the form of jurisdiction. Simply put, what laws apply to a certain situation. The United States has free speech protection. China does not. Which set of laws must a site like Google comply with? The answers are complex.
As a site owner, you need to keep an eye on the developments that occur relating to rules and regulations on the web. Sometimes the changes are obvious. It was only a few years ago that everybody and their brother seemed to be promoting online poker and making a boatload of money. A piece of legislation designed to protect sea harbors changed all that when a provision was included that effectively outlawed online gambling in the United States.
In most cases, the changes are far more subtle. If you sell tangible products, the FTC is a site you need to keep an eye on. Why? The agency sets the rules and regulations on what you can and can't say in advertising. It also details how soon items must be shipped and communications you must make with a customer is certain events occur such as a shipment being late. The rules are changing all the time, so it is critical you stay on top of the game.
What if you have a site where visitors interact? Social networking sites are hugely popular. On the other hand, you might just have a forum on your site. In either situation, you need to know and understand concepts of slander, copyright infringement and other legal issues that arise. There are lawsuits flying all over the place at the moment regarding the responsibilities of sites when dealing with these issues. If you don't stay up to date on the subject, you risk being sued.
Internet law has come a long way in the last fifteen years or so. Rights, duties and obligations are much clearer. That doesn't mean everything is clear at this point. Make sure to stay on top of the developments so you can avoid being caught with your pants down from a legal perspective.
Thomas Ajava writes for FindanAttorneyforMe.com - where you read more free articles on internet law.
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