These online law resources have been chosen to help you to research, at a general level, some of the more important legal issues affecting websites and the internet.
They focus on English and EU law issues, and cover the following subjects: accessibility, copyright, criminal law, data protection, defamation, domain names, ecommerce law, emarketing law and trade marks.
Accessibility remains a hot topic for UK webmasters. It can be difficult, however, to know how far your legal obligations really extend.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 make it illegal for service providers to discriminate against a disabled person. Service providers must make “reasonable adjustments” to the way in which services are offered to enable the disabled to use them.
If you operate a commercial website which is inaccessible to the disabled, you could be be sued as a result, and damages could be awarded against you.
Websites should be designed to avoid liability under the Act; there is a wealth of guidance online about how this should be done.
- RNIB – The web access center of the RNIB.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission – guide for businesses.
- W3 WAI – The Website Accessibility Initiative.
- eEurope 2005: An information society for all
- DDA and Web Accessibility – A summary of the affects of the Disability Discrimination Act on websites from Webcredible.
The law of copyright protects certain classes of creative endeavour. Protected works are collectively termed “copyright works”. If there is one area of law that webmasters need to come to terms with, it’s copyright law.
The online law of copyright is the same as the off-line law. The website is conceptualised in English law as a collection of copyright works, legally distinct even if actually intermingled. Literary copyright protects website text, as well as HTML and program code; artistic copyright protects images and photos; musical copyright and sound recording copyright protect music hosted on a site; and copyright or database right (a close relative of copyright) may protect datasets of database-backed sites. The complexity of copyright protection in a single website can be daunting.
The centrepiece of UK copyright legislation is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This statute sets out details of when copyright arises, who owns copyright, how copyright can be transferred, and when copyright may be infringed. It is well drafted, and the starting point for research into most practical questions of UK copyright law.
Primary online law resources:
- Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 – The UK’s principal piece of copyright legislation. Recent amendments have not, as at the date of writing, been incorporated into this version of the Act.
- Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society – aka the Copyright Directive.
- Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases – This measure was implemented in UK law through The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997.
- Council Directive of 14 May 1991 on the legal protection of computer programs (91/250/EEC)
Secondary online law resources:
- 10 things you should know about … copyright – Our guide for webmasters.
- The UK Intellectual Property Office’s copyright pages – The UK IPO website pages on copyright, which include a wide range of copyright-related resources.
- Out-law.com – Out-law.com’s extensive copyright resources.
- Copyright – Wikipedia’s guide to copyright. The UK and EU specific pages contain links to many other useful resources.
- Creative Commons – A range of creative commons licences are available from this site.
- Copyscape – A free tool to search for potentially infringing copies of web pages.
The criminal law relating to print publications applies in much the same way to online publications. As you might expect, criminal law usually only intervenes in the case of extreme publications of one sort or another.
- Contempt of Court – An introductory guide to the impact of contempt laws on freedom of expression, from Liberty’s website at yourrights.org.uk.
- Obscenity – Liberty’s guide to the offence of obscenity.
- Indecency – Liberty’s guide to the offence of indecency.
- Racial Hatred – Liberty’s guide to the offence of inciting or stirring up racial hatred.
- Blasphemy – Liberty’s guide to the obsolescent offence of blasphemy.
The Data Protection Act 1998 forms, with its retinue of subordinate regulations, an opaque and often tedious body of law. Nonetheless, it forms an important part of the online law. According to the Information Commissioner: “the Data Protection Act gives individuals the right to know what information is held about them, and it provides a framework to ensure that personal information is handled properly”.
- Data Protection Act 1998 – Search using the site engine for “Data Protection Act 1998”.
- Information Commissioner – The data protection pages from the Information Commissioner’s website. These include a search tool for the Data Protection Register
- Out-law.com – Out-law.com’s data protection pages.
- JISC – A JISC briefing paper on data protection.
- Comply with data protection legislation – An introductory guide from businesslink.gov.uk
The UK is notorious as a claimant-friendly jurisdiction for bringing libel proceedings. In other words, you should be careful what you write (or allow others to write) on your website.
The law of defamation is all about reputation, and the protection of reputation. Slander is concerned with the spoken word, libel with the written word. Note that the law of defamation protects both individuals and companies.
A related cause of action, malicious falsehood, protects individuals and companies against false, malicious statements which cause them loss.
- 10 things you should know about … libel – Our guide for webmasters.
- Defamation Act 1996
- Defamation – A guide to UK defamation law from www.out-law.com.
- Defamation and the Internet – An article by Lilian Edwards.
- How to Avoid Libel and Defamation – This BBC guide tells you how to avoid libel claims.
- Defamation: Libel and Slander – Liberty’s guide to defamation in the context of the right to free expression.
The substance of domain name law is closely related to the law of trade marks; but its form is quite different.
The domain name dispute procedure has been largely privatised by means of the Uniform Domain Name Disputes Resolution Policy (known as the UDRP) and related systems of domain name arbitration. The vast majority of domain name disputes are, as a result of this privatisation, decided through independent arbitration bodies such as the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center in Geneva, or the National Arbitration Forum in the US.
The starting point for research into questions of domain name law will largely depend upon the extension of the domain name in issue. Generic top level domain disputes (i.e. those concerning .com, .net, .org etc domains) are most commonly adjudicated under the UDRP. UK country code domain disputes (i.e. .uk disputes) are adjudicated through Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service.
- Introduction to .uk domain disputes – Our introduction to the .uk domain name dispute resolution procedure.
- Introduction to .eu domain disputes – Our introduction to the .eu domain name dispute resolution procedure.
- Introduction to UDRP disputes – Our introduction to domain name disputes adjudicated under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (such as .com disputes).
- Domain name disputes glossary – Our guide through the maze of abbreviations and acronyms littering the domain dispute system.
- Domain name disputes: expert tips – Tips for the conduct of DIY domain name disputes.
- Wikipedia on Cybersquatting – A concise entry.
- Out-law: Domain Name Disputes – A uk-centric introduction to domain name disputes from London law firm Pinsent Masons.
- Bitlaw’s Guide to Domain Name Disputes – A brief introduction to domain names and domain name dispute.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 govern the conduct of electronic commerce in the UK. They are a key part of our online law and impact many online activities.
That said, e-commerce law is about much more than the 2002 Regulations. The English law of contract governs online as well as offline contracting. The key tenets of contract law are to be found in the long history of judgments and decisions by the courts, supplemented by legislation such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
- The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 – These are the UK implementing Regulations for the Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market
- Guide to the E-commerce Regulations – This Dti guide is designed to help businesses deal with the impact of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002.
- The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 – These are the UK implementing Regulations for Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997 on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts
- The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999
- The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002
- E-commerce and the Law – An introductory guide to the subject from www.businesslink.gov.uk.
- Out-law’s e-commerce pages – Focusing upon online transactions.
The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 regulate direct electronic marketing in the UK. This EU-based legislation must be read in conjunction with data protection law, which regulates the use of personal data (which can include email addresses). The two bodies of law are not always consistent.
- 10 things you should know about … email marketing – Our guide for webmasters.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011.
- Email marketing – staying on the right side of the law – An introductory guide from Startups.co.uk.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications Act – An introductory guide from Startups.co.uk (to the Regulations, as there is no such thing as the Privacy and Electronic Communications Act).
- Direct Marketing Association – The DMA website.
- Marketinglaw.co.uk – Over 1000 pages of marketing law resources from UK law firm Osborne Clarke.
- ASA – The website of the Advertising Standards Authority.
- ADLAW by Request – An online advertising law newsletter from international law firm Reed Smith, with a focus on US advertising law.
Trade marks law concerns itself with the commercial use of “signs” (such as names, logos, badges, and so on) which designate the origin of goods and services, and the exploitation and protection of those registered trade mark rights. However, the law also protects unregistered trade marks. In English law, unregistered trade marks are protected under the law of “passing off”.
The most important piece of UK legislation relating to trade mark is the Trade Marks Act 1994. Passing off is a right at common law: it has not been codified in statute.