Internet and online services
The Internet has impacted on the way we communicate and interact, how we buy and sell things, how information and knowledge is distributed, but the law has not kept up. There is no single piece of legislation that we can turn to when we are faced with an Internet related legal issue, and usually, we have to conceptualise an online problem in the offline legal framework and adapt the existing law accordingly. In this context a wide range of laws are relevant including the Trade Practices Act 1974, the Copyright Act 1968, the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the defamation laws.
Nevertheless, the Government has introduced legislation targeting specific issues raised by the Internet, including the regulation of online content (Schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992), the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 and prohibitions on online gambling (Interactive Gambling Act 2001).
The rise of the Internet raises many interesting and complex concepts and problems, some of which are set out below.
Advertising and Marketing
Use of the Internet as an advertising and marketing tool involves many legal issues. Jurisdiction, intellectual property, misleading and deceptive conduct, defamation and privacy may all impact on online advertising and marketing.
The explosion of e-commerce has seen new applications of the Trade Practice Act 1974 and other consumer legislation to the Internet and online transactions. Further, the increase in e-commerce and online contracting has seen the Government enact the Electronic Transactions Act 1999, which recognises the validity of electronic signatures, notices and information.
As copyright protects against unauthorised reproduction or adaptation of original creations, the ease by which information on the Internet can be copied, cut and pasted, downloaded or sent in an email poses many copyright questions.
The Internet has seen an increase in new types of crimes such as computer hacking and cracking, and the spreading of computer viruses. The Internet is also a new medium for more "traditional" crimes so that the phrase "cyber stalking" and other online offences like credit card fraud and the possession of child pornography are now recognised by the criminal law.
The ease by which defamatory material is published on the Internet, by email, in news groups or in chat rooms poses many challenges for the law of defamation. As the Internet can be used to conceal a person's identity (for example, through the use of anonymous email accounts or nicknames or handles), and because the defamatory material may reach any number of jurisdictions over the Internet, it may be difficult to identify and sue a person for defamation.
The Internet is not restrained by location and may reach any number of countries. As such, the Internet's wide reach creates interesting jurisdiction questions:
Where has an online crime been committed?
Where is an online contract made?
Which court has the power to hear a dispute?
Which country's laws apply?
How can a court judgment be enforced if a person is based overseas?
The Internet allows for the formation of paperless contracts and often, contracts are formed by email, by clicking through websites or through digital signatures. If properly done, online contracts are as binding and as enforceable as their paper counterparts. In recognition of online contracts and the electronic communications which often precede and create such contracts, the Government has passed the Electronic Transactions Act 1999.
Using the Internet can affect privacy rights. This is because a large amount of personal information (such as personal interests and details) is often transmitted when a person surfs the net, browses through websites, or provides information when buying an online product. In addition, the increase in "spamming" may also affect the privacy rights of individuals.
Report on Streaming Media and Broadband in Australia 2002 [pdf]
Report on Effectiveness of Internet Filter Software 2001-2002 (CSIRO)
Report on Internet Usage in Australia 2000-2001
International Report on Attitudes to the Internet 1999 [pdf]
Comparative Study on the Internet Content Regulation 1997
Online Services Content Regulation 1995
ACA Internet Provider Service Guidlines
Parliamentary consideration of Online Gambling (Senate Information Technologies Committee)
NOIE Online Authentication: A guide for Online Managers
NOIE Trusting the Internet - A small business guide to E-security
Content Regulation Code of Practice (Internet Industry Association)
Interactive Gambling Industry Code (internet industry Association)
The Cybercrime Code (Internet Industry Association)
Users Information Guide About Online Content
ACCC E-Commerce Issue relating to legal rights & responsibilities of small businesses initiating an online presence[pdf]
ABA Online Services Content Regulation Investigation [pdf]
Regulation of Objectionable Online Material
Building Consumer Sovereignty in Electronic Commerce a best practice Model for E-Commerce
Censorship in the Age of Technology
NOIE Summary of Interactive Gambling Legislation
Electronic Frontiers Australia Internet Censorship in Australia
ABA Codes for Industry Self-regulation in areas of internet content
Internet Industry Association of Australia
The National office for the Information Economy (NOIE)
The Internet Society of Australia
libertus.net (A Website Concerning Net Censorship)
NSW Society for Computers & the Law
The Online Council
Computer Crimes materials
Information on Internet Regulation Activities
Censorship: Internet Content Regulation
Censorship guide: Australian law
Internet Content Regulation in Australia: The Perceptions thus far
Cyberspace Law Links
NOIE Online Content Regulation Project
NetAlert (An independent community advocacy and advisory body to educate Australians in managing their access to the Internet)
Australian IT: Internet Regulation
Internet Censorship & Civil Liberties in Australia
For further information on Internet issues and how the Internet and the law relate, visit our Internet legal practice, Oznet Law.