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Lesson 1

Introduction to Internet Law

Five centuries ago, the invention of the printing press changed the world by making knowledge more widely available. Today, the Internet is causing a more modern version of the same revolution. If information is power, no medium offers this power to more people than the Internet. The Internet is supplementing (and in some cases replacing) such societal hallmarks as libraries and town halls. Online services like America Online and AT&T WorldNet are becoming popular sources of entertainment and information. Internet Web addresses and email addresses are used as status symbols. Magazines, books, and music are published and disseminated electronically. These advances present disadvantages as well. Many software products are becoming commodities because they can be easily duplicated, thus forcing the prices down. Copyright and intellectual property have vague boundaries that can be crossed with hazy justifications. This module discusses many of the complex issues surrounding Internet law, including approaches, challenges, technologies, intellectual property, protection, and security. Internet-related law is an emerging discipline; it constantly changes and incorporates elements of several other legal arenas. This module is designed to introduce you to basic legal concepts, and is not meant as a substitute for sound legal counsel in establishing and maintaining your e-commerce business.

Facebook the Modern Equivalent of AOL

In the vast digital ocean of the 21st century, seeking a modern equivalent to the iconic AOL (America Online) of 1996 is akin to searching for a contemporary galleon[1] that sails the same waters once dominated by a legendary clipper ship. AOL, in its heyday, was a beacon of connectivity, a digital lighthouse guiding users to the then-nascent shores of the Internet. Today, one might look to Facebook as the spiritual successor to AOL's throne. Just as AOL once amalgamated various online services, email, chat rooms, web browsing into a single, user-friendly portal, Facebook has become a multifaceted digital ecosystem. It is a modern agora where news, communication, entertainment, and commerce converge.
Facebook, like AOL, is often the gateway through which many experience the broader digital world. It's where people connect with friends and family, much like how AOL's chat rooms and instant messaging shrunk the digital divide. The platform's integration of various services from Messenger to Marketplace, from live streaming to an endless sea of groups and pages mirrors AOL's once revolutionary all-in-one approach. Furthermore, both platforms have been pioneers in their eras. AOL helped introduce and familiarize the general public with the Internet, just as Facebook has been a trailblazer in social media, redefining how people interact, share information, and perceive their digital identities.
However, while they share similar roles as digital hubs, the seas they navigate are vastly different. AOL sailed in a time of dial-up modems and the exciting, uncharted waters of early cyberspace. Facebook, on the other hand, maneuvers through a mature, hyper-connected digital landscape, dominated by smartphones and high-speed internet. In essence, if AOL was the ship that brought countless adventurers to the new world of the Internet, Facebook is the modern metropolis in that world, bustling with activity and offering a myriad of paths for its digital denizens.

International Institutions and Laws

International institutions are influencing
  1. national laws,
  2. regulations and
  3. policies
and are making them more conducive to the use of the Internet for various purposes. The (UNCITRAL) UN Commission on International Trade Law undertook a major initiative leading to the adoption of the Model Law on E-Commerce. Many countries around the world have enacted new Internet laws by taking the UNCITRAL model law as the guideline. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) member states also approved the establishment of WIPOnet, which provides basic, secure Internet connectivity and services to intellectual property offices. Similarly, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has developed a model contract for privacy and transborder data flows. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has developed action plans to address issues related to authentication, certification, consumer protection, and privacy in the use of the Internet

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:
  1. Explain how the law affects e-commerce and the Internet
  2. Identify Internet issues that may present legal challenges
  3. Describe how legal issues such as jurisdiction, copyright, and patents apply to software
  4. Identify what constitutes intellectual property and how to protect it

Constitutional Basis

The U.S. Constitution grants to Congress the power "To promote the Progress of . . . useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to . . . Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective . . . Discoveries" (U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 8). In accordance with this power, Congress has over time enacted several patent statutes. In particular, in 1952, the present patent law, codified under Title 35 of the United States Code (abbreviated as “35 U.S.C.,” available on the Web at http://uscode. 35.htm), was enacted, although it has been amended many times over the years.
In the next lesson, you will learn to define electronic publishing and intellectual property rights.
[1]galleon: A galleon was a majestic, multi-decked sailing ship that dominated the seas from the 15th to the early 18th centuries. Originally developed in Spain, these vessels served both as powerful warships and lucrative merchant ships, transporting goods and people across vast distances.