Law Offices of
Dorfman and
Sitzberger

Frequently Asked Questions About Internet Rights

The explosion of the Internet into our daily lives has spawned hundreds of questions about legal rights and obligations. Since there is very little legal history on the subject and very little precedent, many conflicts of interest must be decided by new legal actions.

The problem is compounded by the fact that websites, online blogs, e-commerce sites, and news sources reach far beyond our local areas.  While a question of legality may have been settled in one county of one state either by statute or by litigation, that settlement may not apply to other jurisdictions that are affected by the facts of the case.

A website, for instance, offering purchase of a product that is legal to have in the county or state that the seller considers his or her target, might be legally proscribed in another state.  So there can be questions of criminal exposure as well as civil liability of those who conduct online business.

Because there doesn’t appear to have been any legal questioning of an existing practice on the Internet, that is no guarantee that it won’t be targeted in the future. This FAQ page can only scratch the surface of an extremely broad section of law to demonstrate just how complicated and the subject is.

Anyone venturing into Internet-based business should first seek competent legal advice on their project’s structure and legal vulnerabilities.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection available to both published and unpublished works. The 1976 Copyright Act gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work
  • Create derivative works based upon the original
  • To sell or distribute copies of the work to the public including by sale or transfer of ownership, or rental
  • To perform the work
  • To display the work publicly
  • Only the form of expression is protected. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

There are limitations and variations on these rights that cannot be enumerated here.  For further information about the limitations of any of these rights, consult the copyright law or write to the Copyright Office.

What are Website Terms & Conditions?

When you visit a website there are certain terms and conditions as part of its usage. Terms and conditions regarding ownership, use,  access, privacy, etc. There will usually be a link that displays certain terms and conditions associated with usage such as disclaimers, agreements, and terms.

It is important for you to understand and comply with the terms and conditions.

If you have questions about your legal rights and duties, we can be of assistance. Moreover, if you or your company is involved in a legal dispute that arises from website terms and/or conditions, we can assist in its resolution.

What is an E-Signature?

Electronic signatures, or e-Signatures, are signatures for contracts you may execute on the web in order to indicate assent to a contract. They are usually effected by using a checkbox or requiring an individual to type their name.

What is a Digital Signature?

Digital signatures are more complex e-signatures, relying on a form of encryption to ensure that the individual signing the contract is actually that individual. It accomplishes this by creating two “encrypted keys,” one for the individual signing the document, and another for all others.

What is a “Wrap” Agreement?

Wrap agreements on the Internet, like clickwraps and browsewraps, all derive their origins from “shrinkwrap” agreements. Opening a shrink-wrapped product qualifies as agreeing to the enclosed terms.

However, these Internet agreements rely on digital actions that a user takes, either by continued use, or going to a designated area on the website in browsewraps, or by clicking on a clickwraps checkbox.

What is Internet Defamation?

Defamation is a statement that harms someone else’s reputation. Internet Defamation a statement made online that harms the reputation of someone else. This can be in email, a blog, a chat, or some other variation of online communication.

Courts must balance the reputation of one person with the free speech rights of another. Statements must have caused damage to another person and must be repeated to at least one other. The two forms of defamation are ‘Libel’ and ‘Slander.’

Libel is the publishing of a falsehood that causes harm to someone. Slander is the same, but refers to the spoken word. They are both ‘defamation.’ These laws are under the individual state’s jurisdiction. Most require that the falsehood be intentional.

California’s Libel Definitions:

The law definitions of Libel and Slander are extensive and intricate. For details consult the California Civil Code or contact us for a professional consultation on your individual situation.

The statute of limitations is only one year for defamation, so even in the case where you don’t know exactly who created the defamation, it is important that you file a complaint before the deadline.

Using Small Claims Court in California

Your Attorney

California does not permit your attorney to appear in small claims court, however, you can consult with your attorney for assistance in formulating your case. Please request our consultation if you have specific questions about your case.

Using the Small Claims Court option for money damages can be a quicker and more economical solution than litigation.  However, there are limitations on the allowed amount of claims.  For companies and corporations that is $5,000 and individuals can file cases that request up to $7,500.  Neither can file more than two claims that are over $2,500 in one calendar year, although, claims for $2,500 or less are not limited.

Strategy

You will have at least two years to file an action, although there are longer periods for contract disputes and other types of actions. Every county has small claims advisors who can assist you with details.

In Small Claims Court you are representing yourself and counting on your “inner Perry Mason”.  You have great leeway in how you present your case, but just as in a regular court preparation and strategy can be very important.

Be sure to have any:

  • Written documents such as contracts, correspondence, warranties or receipts
  • Photographic images of property, locations or damages
  • Official investigation reports
  • Repair estimates if property damage is involved

When Can I Use Another Author or Artist's Work?

The simple answer is when you have prior permission.  ‘Fair Use Doctrine’ is an exception to that requirement.

Copying copyrighted material done for a ‘limited and transformative purpose’ could be ‘fair use’. ‘Limited’ means the material is intended to be used one-time, and will not be used ongoing or continuously.  ‘Transformative’ means ambiguous.

So, if you are the subject of legal proceedings for copyright infringement, your defense would be to prove that your use was both limited and transformative.

What is Article 'Spinning'?

Spinning an article is copying it and then changing some of the words and structure in order to keep the meaning but obscure the fact that it is basically copied.

When using an idea or reasoning from other articles you may be in danger of plagiarism if you have not really converted the basic idea you wish to describe into your own words and added your own material to its structure and meaning.

If you would like clarification on this subject, give us a call and request a consultation.

Contact Us Now to Schedule a Meeting

11750 Ridge Road

Nevada City, CA 95959

Debra Sitzberger (530) 349-4790

Neil Dorfman (530) 559-6881

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We serve all of California from our Grass Valley / Nevada City, California Office. We'd love to meet you.

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