Hari's Corner

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Common wrong assumptions by amateur internet "lawyers"

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Fri, May 1, 2009 at 09:23 IST (last updated: Sat, Jun 6, 2009 @ 10:33 IST)

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Well, you get a lot of legal opinions on the internet, but most of them are wild assumptions and inaccurate guesses by lay-people who have only the vaguest ideas of what the Law entails and how the Law is actually interpreted and enforced in different parts of the world.

Here are a few common assumptions made by internet "lawyers" who usually use these as forceful points to advance their arguments.
The internet is governed by its own Laws
Wrong - the jurisdiction of the internet is still a contentious issue with every country using its own law to govern online activities which fall under their jurisdiction. Online issues can be very tough to resolve if your country doesn't have clear-cut cyber-laws governing online activities or if such laws contradict the laws of another country whose citizen is a party to the dispute.
All content on the internet is protected by "free speech" laws
Wrong again. There are numerous "regulatory" authorities, both governmental and non-governmental which try to impose their own set of norms on online content, but their effectiveness is at best weak, because of the international audience of web content and the inability to force web publishers to stick to hosting their content in their own countries.
Copyright is absolute and totally enforceable
Many countries have very lax copyright laws, while some others have no copyright laws worth speaking of and thus provide safe havens for websites promoting content theft and piracy. Of course, international pressure has been mounting to prevent this kind of thing, but there will always be a web host in a "friendly" country to host questionable content.
US laws are applicable and might be enforceable in all parts of the world
Another assumption made by American citizens while discussing legal implications online. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, in countries friendly to the US and its policies in international trade and business, this is more true than in other countries; but there are anomalies in legal systems even among such nations.
EULAs are the final word and are always legally enforceable
An EULA is a document of contract and nothing more. Any EULA is subject to the contractual laws of the country in which it is to be enforced. Any contract which violates the legal rights of any of the parties (the end user in this case) in any part of the world might be declared null and void by the law of the land. Thus a software license doesn't always have the full weight of the law behind it, especially in an international context. The fact is, large corporates use EULAs as a way to ensure that customers don't 'complain' too much when their rights are taken away by unfair clauses.
Legal systems are infallible and are mostly fair
Wrong. Judges are human beings with their own subjective leanings and legal systems are often ambiguous and given to liberal interpretation. Also, not every "Law" is spelt out in clear terms; many laws are actually case-laws with a long history of judgements to support a particular point of view. There might be other judgements which contradict these "Laws" in many cases which might lead to long, arduous court battles which don't benefit anybody except the lawyers engaged in the case.
Legal systems are static and absolute
Again, this is a surprising assumption by many online advocates who use several decades old examples to prove a point. In the meantime, legal systems and laws are constantly evolving and adapting to changing times, especially in the context of online laws which are still in their infancy.
Legal issues are only for lawyers
Ignorantia juris non excusat - Ignorance of law is (almost in every country) no excuse. Lay-people need to know the Law of their land, even if only the basics. Obviously it's impossible even for lawyers to know each and every law in operation out there, but for everyday activity and business, some legal knowledge is necessary for everybody.

That's all I can think of right now. If you know of any more common but mistaken assumptions made in online arguments regarding the law, leave a comment here. :biggrin:

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9 comment(s)

  1. Exactly. I can't say anything more. When I write about legal issues and don't indicate I'm writing from an American or Filipino perspective, I get all kinds of arguments.

    Comment by RT Cunningham (visitor) on Fri, May 1, 2009 @ 10:50 IST #
  2. RT, thanks. I am trying to understand why so many people get into arguments when they're not discussing the same thing.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Fri, May 1, 2009 @ 12:08 IST #
  3. On the internet, everyone is American :)

    Comment by ray (visitor) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 00:03 IST #
  4. That seems to be what Obama wants (says the guy who's from that Pirate country to the north of the USA)!

    Comment by MrCorey (visitor) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 04:33 IST #
  5. Ray, on the internet I thought everyone was a Netizen belonging to the country of Internetia. :P

    MrCorey, you should call him Mr. President. Show some respect. :biggrin:

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 08:02 IST #
  6. I thought that I was supposed to kiss a proffered pinky ring. :biggrin:

    Comment by MrCorey (visitor) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 10:54 IST #
  7. you're no fun, hari. Now people on the internet everywhere will know these things you posted, and I won't be able to pick fights with them. :biggrin:

    Comment by titanium (visitor) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 12:32 IST #
  8. There are many many facts on the internet to stop people believing the wrong things. Unfortunately, the rumours are snappier and easier to understand. All you can do is to call their bluffs and get them to sue you - wasting their money in that way is a great learning tool :)

    Comment by ray (visitor) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 13:39 IST #
  9. Titanium, but you can always call me a troll if you like. ;-)

    Ray, a lie travels around the world while the truth is still putting her boots on (I read this in Henry Cecil's "Truth with Her Boots on" )

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Sat, May 2, 2009 @ 15:13 IST #

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