The government has made efforts to protect your privacy when using the internet. For example, revenge porn laws provide a legal remedy for those whose ex-partners post illicit pictures of them online without their consent. For certain areas, there are also policies that prohibit the publication of private data and protect information, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, HIPPA, and the Financial Modernization Act. The federal government can even hold businesses liable if they do not take steps to prevent hacking.
Internet crime is increasingly common. Over the last five years, the FBI has received an average of more than 284,000 complaints of Internet crime per year. Victims report fraudulent Internet auctions, credit card fraud, scams impersonating the FBI, identity theft, fake emails seeking donations (ex: disaster relief donations) and purchasing merchandise that was never delivered. For more information on common types of Internet fraud and how to protect yourself, go to https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber. Victims can file complaints with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Downloading Information, Pictures, or Music from the Internet
Sometimes it is illegal to download information, pictures, or music from the Internet. It is illegal, for example, to pirate or download copyrighted material (such as music, movies, shows, and photographs) without authorization. Under federal law, criminal copyright infringement, (downloading material, even for your personal use) is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and fines and charges of up to $150,000 per fine.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are the two primary groups that police the downloading of music and movies. They continuously monitor downloads and websites for copyright violation and tend to pay close attention to colleges and universities. When they see that a song or movie has been downloaded illegally, they notify the school who then takes steps to internally identify the person who downloaded the file. There can be serious legal and financial ramifications to illegal downloading.
You could also get into trouble if you download sexual pictures of children or young teens. Possession of or control over “child pornography” is a crime punishable by time in prison. Child pornography is not just limited to little kids. It can also include young teenagers. For example, if you are 18 year old guy and have sexual photos of a younger teenage female, you may be in possession of child pornography under the law. If you are convicted of possessing (or attempting to possess) such material, or sharing that material with others, you would have to register as a sex offender for life. Delete any email with an attached photo of child pornography immediately.
Defamation is a false statement which tends to harm the reputation of a person or company. You may have heard of “libel” and “slander” and defamation covers both of those terms. Both state and federal defamation laws govern libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation) online.
To sue for defamation, you would have to prove the following:
- That the statement you are suing about is a false statement of fact. Note that a fact, which can be prove true or false, is different than opinion. Opinions are typically not actionable as defamation, although if opinions are mixed with untruths or manipulations of the truth, it can be considered defamation.
- That the false statement of fact has harmed your reputation. It is not enough that the statement is false. It has to have affected your reputation negatively too.
- The false statement of fact must be made without adequate due diligence or research into the truthfulness of the statement. Individuals that are the subject of defamatory statements often try to prove that the statement was made with full knowledge of its falsity.
Truth can be used as a defense in slander and libel cases, with exceptions.
Sometimes, libel can be removed or redacted from online forums.
For famous people, the rules are different. If the person who is the subject of the false statement of fact is a celebrity or public official, that person must also prove “malice.” Malice is proven when the person posting the information on the internet intended to do harm or acted with reckless disregard of the truth in making the statements.