The Laws You Didn’t Know You Were Violating Online

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The widespread and mostly unregulated use of the Internet is a boon for communication, innovation, and marketing. However, many people break a variety of laws every day when they go about their regular Internet activities, often without even knowing it. Here are some of the most commonly broken laws associated with Internet use today.

Copyright Infringement

This is a big one and probably the most heavily litigated controversy of Internet media sharing. Some kinds of copyright infringement are obvious, such as illegally downloading or streaming a TV show, a movie, or a song. Other kinds of copyright violations are less direct. Here, once and for all, is a breakdown of what is and isn’t legal in media sharing online:

  • Illegal: Using words, sounds, or images that you don’t own in any form of shared media — usually songs, movie clips, photographs, or sections of books.
  • Illegal: Creating “mash-ups” of works you don’t own.
  • Illegal: Using media that’s open source or subject to “commons” guidelines for unauthorized marketing or otherwise business-focused purposes.
  • Illegal: Downloading a copy of a book without permission from the publisher, providing the book isn’t in the public domain.

Though these instances are illegal, it’s legal to use small segments of copyrighted works for educational purposes. For example, accredited MBA online programs may use texts in this regard to teach lessons or pass along important information.

Identity Fraud

It may seem like a good idea for personal privacy to provide a false name, address, phone number, or other kind of personal information online, but this is actually a minor form of fraud. It’s almost never legally permissible to provide false information, with exceptions for cases in which the party asking for that information can be legally deemed a threat to the party who provides the false information.

Unsecured Wi-Fi

It’s a common practice for Internet users to jump on an unsecured wireless network, often assuming that the owner of the connection doesn’t mind sharing the network. This may not be the case, though. Unless the owner of the connection gives express permission, no one else has the legal right to use the connection. Actually, it may be deemed anything from invasion of privacy to theft of service.

Breaching Security

Onerous as they can be, software security, website security, and digital rights management (DRM) software are legally protected elements of your online experience. Using hacks, cracks, and other methods to trick or circumvent such software may violate a website’s terms of service, break an end-user agreement on a piece of software, or in the case of premium content barriers, be considered theft or piracy. In some states, password sharing for services like HBO Go and Netflix is also illegal.

Online Workers

Businesses often hire contract workers or interns online for a variety of services, from writing and design to coding and more. These workers are no less subject to labor laws as in-person workers. It’s illegal to display discrimination, pay these workers less than minimum wage, violate a state’s contractor laws, or receive direct financial benefit from interns online.

Not all laws are enforced online as strongly as in other areas of life, but they’re still enforceable by law. Surf safe and be mindful of all local and national Internet laws when you connect.

To learn more, visit Washington State University’s online MBA program.