IS THERE ANY LAW GOVERNING THE INTERNET?

 

I am sure almost everyone will agree there must be laws at the WorldWideWeb because lawlessness will inevitably lead to chaos. Every country in the world has their own laws and so, why should the Internet be any different?

However, the interesting part about having an Internet Law is that the Internet is shared by everyone in the world and so, the laws must be agreed upon by all countries. The drafting of an Internet Law will be a legislator’s (and draftsman’s) nightmare. The Internet Law has to be accepted by all the countries in the world and therefore consonant to all existing laws worldwide. The existing laws of each country already differ from each other. English Law is not really the same as American Law and neither is French Law wholly compatible with German Law. Laws in Japan are different from those in Russia and China. So how do you formulate a set of Internet Laws that all countries can agree to?

Many court cases concerning the Internet have already been decided in many countries but most judges have generally steered clear of formulating any law that can be imposed worldwide. They used legal arguments to find an easier way out so that the decisions of the court cannot be said to create any new Internet Law. I think they are also aware of the present futility in trying to create any new Internet Law that can be enforced in every country.

In view of the above, we can say there is no rule of law on the Internet at the moment and it looks as though it is going to a be a very long time before all countries can agree to a common set of Internet Laws.

However, regarding many of the crimes frequently committed on the Internet nowadays, every country actually already has its own laws to deal with them. We can start with the crime of “theft”.

Stealing is a crime in all countries of the world. Many people will accept the fact that taking someone’s wallet or purse without permission is something they should not do. They know they can go to jail for such acts. But once they get on to the Internet, they steal images and articles plus other forms of intellectual property including songs and software. All these criminal acts can be committed with the click of a mouse in the privacy of their own homes and sheltered behind their computers. I suppose the ease with which many things can be stolen over the internet, makes the culprit thinks he is not really doing anything wrong. They are of the misguided view, "If you don’t want me to steal your wallet, why put in right in front of me?”

Images found on the internet can be downloaded to your computer for your “personal viewing” and to do anything more than that can be tantamount to theft. Whether there is a copyright claim on the images found at someone else’s website is immaterial because, if they are not yours, you have no right to use them except for your own viewing pleasure. A copyright claim merely serves to give you an additional warning.

Many people are also fond of “lifting entire articles” from online newspapers or magazines and then pasting them at forums or at their own websites. This act is clearly an infringement of copyright,  if done without permission and the newspaper or magazine can sue if they so wish. Why do people commit such unlawful acts on the internet? Again, the answer must be the ease with which the laws can be broken. Just a matter of “cut and paste” or trying to do the misguided good deed of  “spreading the news”.

In ordinary conversations at clubs or other social functions, it is rare to hear someone accusing another of being a thief or a liar. But on the internet, such allegations abound and there are some astounding character assassinations. Why? Once again, it is so easy to do that. Just switch on the computer, login to a forum and start calling names. Child’s play really. You also see on the Internet many complaints about establishments which are not supported by any sort of evidence and which are libellous (or slanderous) in nature. These same people will never word the same complaint the same way in a “face to face” situation. All countries have existing laws to deal with libel and slander.

“Anonymity” is a comforting thought to many people who have a tendency to abuse the internet. They think they can’t be caught. They think their “screen names” will never be linked to their “real names”. These people should think again. All emails can be traced and all messages posted at messageboards or forums have an IP Address that shows its origin. Cookies can be sent to the offending computer and thus having it “marked” for future investigation.

Many people barge into a forum or messageboard without bothering to read the rules governing that particular website. It is just like visiting another country without any care for its laws, customs or traditions. Maybe no crime committed here but it is certainly an exhibition of rudeness. Would you walk into a club in your own town without first checking out the rules?

Every citizen of the world bears a social responsibility to make sure the younger generation approaches the internet with a proper understanding of existing laws. Intellectual theft should be explained to them and also the meaning of libel and slander. It should also be stressed that courtesy is to be extended to the Internet.

I write this short article with the hope of generating some discussion on the need of a uniform and universal Internet Law. Please feel free to use the feedback form below to state your views and/or suggestions.

Best wishes to all, kayes.

 

name: email:

What kind of laws should govern the Internet?

RESPONSE

kayes<kayes@pc.jaring.my>

Singapore now says if you make racist remarks on the internet against another race, you can be charged under the Sedition Act. The maximum jail term is 3 years and/or a maximum fine of S$5000. Two persons (aged 27 & 25) were charged recently. Both were charged for posting disparaging comments about Malays and Islam on an internet forum for dog lovers. The charged added they had the intention of committing acts "with a seditious tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Singapore".

Derek Dobson<ddobson@datacrypt.com.au>

Hello Kayes, its a long time since we traded words. To much work, too little time. I read your views and for the most part agree. Unfortuately I dont believe we will ever see a singular binding piece of legislation recognised by all countries who have the political will to enforce the same. In the past 10 years the net has changed dramtically. Its an educational and recreational tool. Its a business and communication enabler. All this activity then attracted the second tier leeches - the marketers, the get rich and now the crimminals.

I currently have s number of servers in operation with my new business. We stand on the web saying we are secure. A red rag to a bull. They come from Algiers to Zimbabwe and every country in between trying to compromise security using such old exploits its rather lame, but the danger is the ones who are out there that will do the research on the company and the individuals running it and when equipped execute a planned attack. Why? As Malloty said, "because its there."What 5 years ago was the realm of script kiddies is now controlled by criminal organisations originating in Russia and Eastern Europe. They are highly IT literate, capable and determined. One of the latest efforts is extortion. Malware hits the PC and embeds itself with an SMTP that lifts the originator address and transmits that home. It then encrypts all files and directories under the Win system users leaving access to email. An email arrives demanding a payment of $250US for a decyption key. A double take - 250 and the credit card details. If we tried that in the main street, face to face we would see the inside of a cell.

But anyway enough of my raves. Stay Safe . Derek Dobson

kayes<kayes@pc.jaring.my>

Three very important events took place a few days ago. The first one is the ruling of the US Supreme Court which held that makers of technology (including software) have to answer for what people do with it. The second one is the closure of chat rooms by Yahoo after certain top paying advertisers stopped giving their business. And third is the case of the mother in UK who has been asked to pay £4000 as a result of her 14- year old daughter's illegal downloading of songs from the internet through file-sharing.

I will discuss the US Supreme Court's most significant ruling first. This case was taken out by the music industry against Grokster, the makers of file-sharing software which enables millions of internet users to download music under the guise of "peer to peer file sharing". Shortly, the music industry alleged that Grokster was prospering as a result of unfettered piracy taking place on file-sharing networks on the Internet. And there was substantial evidence that Grokster had induced people to use its software to illegally share copyrighted files/songs.

The Supreme Court's decision has been hailed as a big win for the music industry and is widely seen as one of the most important copyright cases in years. (In my opinion, I think it is the most important decision to date on copyright vis-a-vis the internet). It also sends a strong signal that the United States of America intends to provide more protection for copyright holders and perhaps even saying that the Internet cannot simply be like the wildwildwest, utterly lawless where anyone can do anything he likes. There is a great and pressing need for regulatory measures. The so-called "Freedom on the Net" should be viewed as a dangerous dream.

In the Grokster case, Supreme Court Justice David Souter said, "The question is under what circumstances the distributor of a product capable of both lawful and unlawful use is liable for acts of copyright infringement by third parties using the product". He added, "We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright ... is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties". Lawyers, academics, analysts and coffeeshop "lawyer buruks" etc are already discussing the far reaching legal effects of this milestone court decision.

Secondly, the fact that Yahoo has closed hundreds of its chat rooms, some of which were used to promote sex with minors, augurs well for the Internet. It shows that a service provider shows concern for the misuse of its facilities. Previously, almost all ISPs defended themselves by saying they cannot control what happens at the various forums and chat rooms which they house and that it was impossible to police such places due to the fact that such happenings are occurring in real time. For example, over the space of 5 minutes, lots of undesirable messages could have been posted at a forum or chat room and in a busy chat room, thousands of messages are posted each day.
Yahoo should be congratulated for taking this significant step but the real heroes must be the advertisers of Yahoo, like Pepsi, State Farm and Georgia Pacific, who stopped giving their business after they were informed that adults were attempting to lure children into sexual encounters within some of Yahoo's user-created chat rooms. Such happenings were discovered as a result of an investigation by KPRC-TV.

In its terms of service, Yahoo does require users not to "harm minors in any way" or make available any content that is "unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous or otherwise objectionable: However, those bent on misusing the Internet do not pay heed to such requirements. In fact, they do not even bother to read the rules.

Thirdly and finally, in UK , a mother has received a bill for £4000 from the music industry, being the price of the 1400 songs which her 14-year old daughter downloaded to her computer using file-sharing. Her daughter, Emily, was caught illegally downloading those songs. As Emily is still a minor, the mother who is her legal guardian, is responsible for the debt. Perhaps, there is some good news for mom in view of the Streamcast decision by the US Supreme Court. Emily's mom when sued by the music industry, can always bring in the makers of the file-sharing software, as a third party and claim to be indemnified by them since it was the file-sharing software that started it all.

Note: If you would like to read the full judgment of the US Supreme Court in the MGM v. Grokster case, click here for a pdf copy.


Firstly Kayes, a big thank you for running this site and running it well. I'm a lawyer practising in Penang and have a keen interest in IT (Information Technology) Law. Yes, there have been countless opinions voiced throughout the world on the "concept" of regulating the internet. Essentially, the internet has grown in such a manner that many feel its regulation has now become no more than a moot point. It is virtually (pun intended) impossible. Whilst I appreciate many feel that "lawlessness" will beget abuses and technology crimes; the answer to "controlling" the internet is in the control of its access. I wrote a paper once on this topic and my suggestion was that it becomes incumbent on us as responsible users to self-regulate. With the proper use of our own rules (informal ones for home users) and policies (formal contractual ones for businesses and corporations), there can be some semblance of sensibility in cyberspace.

kayes<kayes@pc.jaring.my>

Eugene, I agree with the concept of self-regulation but many users first need to be educated on the various aspects of the law. If someone thinks that lifting intellectual property from the internet is "okay", I don't think he can self-regulate himself in an effective way in matters regarding copyright. And many people are under the misguided notion of "free speech" thinking he is at liberty to say whatever he likes. Even in the US, the home of the First Amendment, you will find that "free speech" is restricted in many ways. The First Amendment merely prevents the US Government from restricting what a person can say and even then, there are some exceptions. It does not prevent a private party (like a company or say, an owner of an internet forum) from limiting speech in areas which the company or person controls. Many private parties (companies, schools, foundations etc etc) in the US have speech restrictions in one way or another. And in the US, the home of free speech, citing the First Amendment as a defence will certainly not help you if you are being sued for libel or slander or both. In the case of a person who thinks that speech is utterly free and unrestricted, I don't think he can self-regulate himself if he decides to run an internet forum or worse, if he owns an ISP. Libel (next to porn) is one of the worst "happenings" on the internet and users must be made to understand what constitutes libel & slander in the legal sense. Having good manners is a good start.


I am sure you have it right Kayes, it will be a legislator's 'nightmare' to get agreement across all nations that can access the www. It must be most if not every nation in our global village by now.With access to the net growing yearly, and particularly with the 'always on' high speed connections that are becoming more affordable to many people, the temptations to upload and to download copyright materials is tempting to many. However, maybe some will think twice with the victories of some corporations who have successfuly taken steps to bring the culprits of theft of copyright materials (songs and movies) to justice.


I also run a forum which unfortunately is not as popular as Penang Talk. My forum is about my hometown and pretty often I get people charging in to raise political issues. They think the forum is an instant soapbox for them to air their views without bothering to read the rules. The internet needs some laws quick. Just look at what is happening at the chat rooms. The younger generation must not be allowed to start on their internet journey thinking it is some kind of WildWildWest where there are no laws and they can do anything they like. .Jeremy. 

 

 

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