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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.
International institutions are influencing national laws, regulations and 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.