There is a myth that the Internet is unregulated and beyond the reach of the legal regulations that affect the conduct of social and business affairs in the real world.
However, the truth is, cyberspace is not a legal vacuum. Indeed, certain sectors have special rules which need to be taken into account. And even ordinary companies which do not do business in highly-regulated environments must take account of intellectual property laws on the Net.
As a broad guide, it is important to bear in mind the following when conducting business or selling products and services over the Internet:
* Intellectual property is territorial, and is judged according to the law of each state or country. You should remember that your presence on the Internet is simultaneously global. So there is no substitute for taking local advice on legal issues ? at least in the territories where your business is based, or in your major markets.
* You will need a domain name. If someone has already registered your company trademark as their domain name, you may be able to get a court order forcing them to relinquish it.
* If you commission someone to design and host your Web site, you need to ensure that there is adequate provision in their contract for ownership of the intellectual properties involved. You should also make sure you own all that is necessary to allow you to take the site elsewhere and employ other people to maintain and improve its design.
* Literary works (which includes computer code and programs), artistic works (covering photographs and drawings), musical works, sound recordings and films may be protected by copyright. They are still protected by copyright when they are available on the Internet. l If you publish your own intellectual property on the Internet, it may be assumed that you have granted a broad licence allowing users to copy and widely distribute your material. If you want to restrict such material being used, you should expressly grant a restrictive licence as a condition of someone using your Web site.
* Don?t forget the patents. It is possible for some software to be protected by patents. If computer programs are part of a product you are distributing over the Net, you should take the usual precautions against patent infringement.
* If you are using music with your site, you must either own the copyright in both the song and sound recording or have permission to use them. This must include the right to synchronise the music with the images that appear on the site.
* You will probably be collecting data about the visitors to your site, or perhaps a service provider is doing so for you. In this case, you should be aware of the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1984, which regulates the collection and use of personal data about individual users. You may need to register under the Act.
* The Internet is not secure, so you should inform anyone you are communicating with through your Web site that you do not guarantee its security, integrity, reliability or confidentiality.
* The law of defamation applies in cyberspace. Be careful about what you make available from your server and avoid publishing defamatory statements. Publishing can include drawing attention to another?s statement, which may include hyperlinking.
* Make sure that when you publish material on the Internet?s global network you do not breach the terms of exclusive licences or distributorships into which you may have previously entered for foreign territories.
All legal information is provided by the specialist computer law group at Bird & Bird. Contact the company on 0171 415 6000 or check out its Web site at twobirds.com.
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