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What Is Computer Law?

Computer law dictates whether a program can be lawfully copied onto an individual's hard drive.
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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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With the advent of the Internet, governments were presented with all kinds of legal challenges, including how to regulate subject matter that had never previously been envisioned and jurisdictional issues. Computer law is the body of law that has been established to govern these issues. It regulates intellectual property considerations, determines the liability of the service providers that facilitate the ability to access the Internet when their consumers violate such laws, and regulates disputes over domain names.

Intellectual property issues, most notably copyright, were among the first questions of computer law to arise — both on and off the Internet. In the earliest computer law cases, some courts held that installing a program onto one’s hard drive amounts to reproducing copyrighted work. The same courts also held that the purchase of such a program grants the user an implied license to do so since such an act is required to utilize the program. However, installing an illegal copy of a program on a hard drive is, in fact, a copyright violation.

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In the early days of the Internet when copyright violations were completely unpoliced and uncontrolled, copyright holders began to sue the Internet service providers (ISPs) for the violations of people using their service. Such lawsuits asserted that ISPs were facilitating the copyright violations and thus should be held liable for the illegal actions of their clients. In response to the lack of established computer law in this area, many jurisdictions enacted statutes mandating that ISPs must take reasonable action to prevent any violations of which they become aware, though they could not be held liable for violations that were unknown to them. Additionally, ISPs are typically required to provide a contact specifically used to receive tips of copyright violations by their particular clients.

Many of the initial computer law litigation battles occurred over the ownership of domain names. Few people truly understood the power behind a domain name when the Internet was in its formative stage. As a result, forward thinkers were able to purchase domain names they expected to become sought after, and attempted to sell them to an interested party at a steep price once he or she realized the value of the domain. Most jurisdictions frowned upon this activity and enacted laws making it illegal for a person to purchase a domain name in bad faith with the sole purpose of selling it at a premium to a particular party.

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