Internet users are answerable to the law too

By: Edward Webb

Date: 21 March 2013

The internet is vast, it contains more information than any traditional library and it has made the world a smaller place. A person in Leicester, England, can speak freely with a person on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia, in an instant. Real time pictures can be streamed to friends and people can discover and express new opinions and outlooks on life at the click of a button.

Unfortunately the internet draws people into a false sense of security. There are a growing number of internet users who consider the internet to be a place where the law does not apply or where a softer punishment will befall them if they are caught in disrepute.

This is not the case. Megaupload founder, Kim Dotcom, is currently fighting extradition to the United States from his home in New Zealand for breach of the USA's various copyright laws for his file-sharing website. Sally Bercow (the wife of the Speaker of the Commons) is being pursued by Lord McAlpine for defamation arising from comments made by her on Twitter. Numerous people found themselves in breach of the ‘super injunction' prohibiting people talking about the affair between Imogen Thomas and a well-known footballer.

Small businesses that regularly use social media (such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook) need to be aware of the potential consequences for both the owners and employees of falling foul of the law. The simple act of re-Tweeting a defamatory comment could get you and your employee in legal hot water. Make sure you have clear company policies on social media use that all employees are aware of and stick to.

The truth is that no matter where you log on to the internet there are rules and laws that you may have to comply with. While case law is still setting precedent for sentencing and consequences of actions it is still good practice to err on the side of caution and be prudent about what content you upload to the internet.

Edward Webb is a solicitor with Edward Hands and Lewis based on the Litigation team.

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