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What is Internet Litigation?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Internet litigation refers to disputes that originate over Internet-specific behaviors. A growing body of law firms and legal professionals are specializing in Internet litigation due to the rising incidence of torts and civil wrongs occurring over the Word Wide Web. In general, any type of litigation arising out of conduct conducted on the Internet can give rise to Internet litigation, but certain behaviors and lawsuits exist more frequently than others.

People's behavior on the Internet is governed by the same rules that govern behavior elsewhere. Thus, the same types of behaviors and activities that would lead to civil litigation if done on any other medium also apply to behaviors performed on the Internet. As as result, Internet litigation often relies on standard common law principles as the cause of action for litigation.

Common examples of issues that arise over the Internet include copyright infringement and defamation. These issues arise out of common-law causes of action as well as federal copyright protection statutes that exist. Like on any other medium, individuals are prohibited from using copyrighted material without proper permission and attribution, and are prohibited from defaming the character of others on the Internet.

Copyright infringement can occur on any number of Internet websites. It can involve the theft of content or other copyrighted materials. This theft may occur from other websites, but may also take the form of illegally reprinting books, newspapers, or other copyrighted material on the Internet.

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Defamation on the Internet commonly arises as an issue on social media sites. Printing untrue and defamatory statements on a blog or social media site can give rise to Internet litigation. Disseminating untrue information through any Internet medium, including emails and web pages, is also considered defamatory, provided it meets the statutory and common law definition of defamation of character.

Although Internet litigation is in many ways similar to standard litigation, certain special problems often exist because of the nature of the Internet. For example, an illegal defamation or copyright infringement could occur anywhere in the world. This gives rise to jurisdictional issues.

In order to hear a lawsuit, a court must have jurisdiction over the parties. If an individual in one state harms or injures an individual living in another state, the court cannot simply command that person living in the other state to come and stand trial. The court would have to establish that they have personal jurisdiction — the authority to rule over the person.

This is made more difficult when people commit torts across the Internet. Plaintiffs can attempt to prove that the court should have jurisdiction because the person's actions affected individuals' within the jurisdiction of the court. Unfortunately, this may not always be sufficient to allow a court to hear an Internet litigation case in which a plaintiff was wronged by a distant defendant.

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