The Internet offers the latest frontier for establishing legal precedents and lawyers are starting to flock to the developing field.
BY JENNI BERCAL
When Robert Kain graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1978, he never dreamed he’d be an attorney practicing computer law. But today Kain is one of the growing number of attorneys who specialize in cyber law can encompass everything from domain name protection to defamation to the digital distribution of music.
“No one knew what cyber meant when I graduated. I never imagined it would be like this,” said Kain, a registered patent attorney who practices in Fort Lauderdale and specializes in intellectual property, which involves trademarks and copyrights
Attorneys such as Kain have flocked to cyber law because they realize that traditional specialties, such as intellectual property contracts or corporate law, need to keep pace with changes in technology. Much of cyber law deals with commercial transactions that have been negotiated through the Internet.
For example. it used to be that when you signed a written agreement on the dotted line, you had signed a contract. Now, when you log onto a Web site and click “I agree” to a list of conditions before being allowed to see the site’s contents, the law is murkier. While many courts have ruled that this type of contract – often called a “click-through agreement” – Is binding. The largest legal question is whether the language was clear and unambiguous to the customer.
In cyber law, issues that arise in the area of the Internet and computer technology can be more complex and uncertain than in traditional law. While courts have taken up such issues only in the past few years. there have been some significant rulings dealing with the Internal. Among them:
Last June, the ACLU won a federal appeals court case !hat struck down as unconstitutional the Child Online Pro1ection Act passed by Congress, which makes it a crime to use the World Wide Web to communicate “for commercial purposes” material considered “harmful to minors.” The act makes it illegal to knowingly put objectionable material, such as pornography, where a child could access it on the Web The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case.
CYBER PITFALLS OF THE LAW
Cyber law can affect any small business that sets up a Website or is involved in online commerce. Business owners should consider a number of legal issues before they take the plunge onto the Internet. Among them:
When users enter an online Site. they often are c1sked to accept or approve a user agreement Once they do, it often is considered a binding contract Cyber lawyers write Web site contracts and then litigate them.
DOMAIN NAMES, COPYRIGHTS
Businesses need to protect their domain name. copyright or trade name. Cyber lawyers help companies register domain names. Registration can help prevent “cyber-squawng,” on which someone improperly buys a business’ domain name. which the person then tries to resell for an innate price.
A company with an Internet site could confront a number of liability Issues. For instance, could it be sued if it os based on one state and sells a product to a dissatisfied customer in a different state? What are the requirements to conduct international business over the Internet? Does a company have to comply with the regulations governing commerce of every state or every country?
When a company or its officials are defamed on the Internet. what is their recourse? Company officials are particularly warned about “cyberstalking” – when someone sets up a phony Internet site or puts damaging information on an online bulletin board that might affect the company’s stock price or financial reputation