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Computer Law


The explosive growth of the Internet has already impacted the way society functions and has left us with many new laws. The laws involve Intellectual Property Rights (copyright), Cyberspace Law, Privacy, Commerce, Computer Fraud, Hacking as well as International Law. Below are a few examples.

Copyright law

Typically the primary means of affording legal protection for producers of computer programs, computers, computer systems, etc. is by copyright law. Copyright Issues
Copyright law attempts to balance various interests: provide protection of the creator's intellectual property so that he/she will have a financial incentive to create and innovate, but not so much protection that will too severely inhibit or prevent others from building on the art form. Copyright law attempts to balance the rights of the creators, users, competitors, licensees, etc. Copyright Requirements
Copyrights apply to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression".
”Original” means basically not copied. The work need not be too original, but may not be merely a trivial variation of another work.
”Works of authorship” specifically excludes an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery. So, for example, an idea cannot be protected by copyright law, only the expression of the idea. This prevents an author from obtaining a monopoly on an idea merely by writing it down.
”Fixed in any tangible medium of expression” includes a piece of paper and computer disk or tape. Even though RAM is volatile RAM is included.
”Authorship” applies to either the individual creator or to a "work for hire" (e.g. an employee). When an individual creates an original work, that individual owns all the rights under copyright law. An employer owns the rights when an employee working within the scope of his/her employment creates a work. If more than one author is involved, they are “co-authors”. Each co-author has rights and obligations with regard to the other coauthors. Cyberspace Law

There really is no cyberspace law as such; only law as applied to the internet. A partial list of legal issues affecting and affected by the internet is contained below. Privacy
Personal privacy has very much been affected by the internet. For example, there is a great deal of information about individuals available on the internet.

Currently, a substantial amount of information can be and is collected on the internet about individuals, often without the knowledge of the individual. The common law has traditionally protected four privacy interests: 1) unauthorized appropriation of one’s name or likeness in a manner which injures his/her dignity or reputation, 2) publicly placing another individual in false light, 3) tortuous disclosure of private facts which are highly offensive and not newsworthy, and 4) unreasonable intrusion into an individual's seclusion. One or more of these could be applied to internet situations. Electronic Mail
Everyone should recognize that email is less secure than traditional forms of written communications, e.g. telephones and letters. Email copies are made and retained often on backups which are retained for years, even if the user orders a deletion. EXAMPLES:
1. The legal trend is that employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding employers reading their email. More and more employers are monitoring employee email, basing their right on various rationales: the employers do own the equipment and the software; the employers legitimate right to monitor the workplace to avoid sexual, racial or other unwanted harassment; the employers want to ensure that email is only used for business purposes. This policy should be provided to and acknowledged by each employee. 2. Email addresses have become very valuable commodities. Very large email lists are now routinely bought and sold to allow bulk mailings for advertisement. World Wide Web
As a person surfs the WWW, information about that person is left at various sites, including the type of browser, email address, computer type, URL, etc. Some software (used primarily by employers) records which pages are downloaded to a particular computer. All users should recognize that data files are subject to discovery and seizure during searches by law enforcement authorities, although there are legal restrictions, including the protections of the Fourth Amendment. In civil cases computer data files are subject to discovery. Since technological means are available to reconstruct records, even deleted or damaged data may be detectable and used. Computer Fraud

Legislative attention to computer crimes grew dramatically in the early 1980s, as computers became increasingly central to the conduct of business and politics. Instances of hackers, especially among young people, accessing government computer files for sport were becoming alarmingly frequent.

A popular culture mythology developed, founded on the exploits of what were regarded as rebel heroes who could single-handedly spy on and sabotage the vast machinations of the corporate and government establishment. Counter-measures
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 was signed into law in order to clarify definitions of criminal fraud and abuse for federal computer crimes and to remove the legal ambiguities and obstacles to prosecuting these crimes. The Act established two new felony offenses for the unauthorized access of "federal interest" computers and a misdemeanor for unauthorized trafficking in computer passwords. International Law

Whenever issues affect more than one nation, typically the laws within a nation may not apply. Instead a treaty between two or more nations may provide the relevant law. There are many international treaties covering intellectual property. As an example the United States passed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to implement certain treaty requirements. Typically, the developed and to a lesser extent the developing countries are interested in protecting intellectual property, since it is a value national asset, whereas undeveloped nations obtain an economic benefit from using such assets without paying the going rate for them. As a nation begins to develop more and more intellectual property of its own, it begins to have a greater incentive to protect that property.


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