Few companies know as much as they should about Internet law. Every company runs across its share of scammers, disgruntled employees and lawsuits. How often a company sidesteps trouble and how often a company gets left holding the bag, often comes down to which side knows more about the laws affecting the Internet and which side has taken steps to use these laws to its advantage. Here are a few Internet legal basics that take many companies by surprise:
1) Information is the Key.
The more you know about internet law the less likely you are to get scammed. Scammers are not stupid; they actually know more about Internet law than most of the companies they scam. They pick the lowest hanging fruit first. If they try to scam your company and fail, they will likely search for easier prey. If they scam you once however, not only will they scam your company again, but they may sell your information to other scammers as an easy mark.
2) “Fair Use” Rarely Applies.
Unless you have a written contract giving you the right to use a photograph, a graphic design or a piece of writing, there is a good chance you are committing copyright infringement by using the work. Nine times out of ten you may get away with it. That tenth time, however, is going to make you understand why the other nine times were simply not worth it. If you are dealing with an independent contractor for design services, make sure you get an assignment of the work AND an indemnification for infringement from the contractor in writing.
3) Most Online Security Breaches are an “Inside Job.”
Whether it is a receptionist giving out a network password over the phone to someone he thinks is in the IT department or a sales rep opening a malware virus in an email attachment, scammers typically attack your employees before they attack your computers. Stay up to date on the latest ways criminals are exploiting employee vulnerabilities and pass this information along to every employee in your organization.
4) Build a Social Networking Presence Before Its Too Late.
What do you do if a disgruntled employee or customer posts something defamatory about your company online? Well, you could take them to court. That takes time and money, and all the while potential customers are confronted by these defamatory statements. Even if potential customers do not believe the statements, they have to wonder what you did to make the poster so angry. Building a solid social network before a problem arises, not only provides a buffer, burying defamatory statements under laudatory statement, but social networks provide resources to handle outbreaks quickly and efficiently, sometimes before you even have time to call an attorney.
5) Protect Your Digital Data.
You lock the doors to your company every night. What are you doing to protect your digital information. Consistently updated firewalls, anti-virus software and off-site network backups are a must. Whereas a thief breaking in and stealing your petty cash is a problem, a thief stealing digital assets is a nightmare. In addition to the cost of restoring the stolen data, you may have to deal with dozens, or even hundreds of lawsuits from clients whose personally identifiable information was taken as well.
6) Destroy Obsolete Data.
Many companies are like pack-rats, storing every bit of digital information that crosses their paths. The problem is that if your company is ever sued, you may have to convert this data to a readable format and present it to the other side. Does your company have any floppy disks? Do you have any computers that can read them? Set up and execute a document retention policy (DRP). The policy should also include a “litigation hold” order to stop all data destruction once you are on notice that your company may be sued. Failure to do so may lead to sanctions costing millions (or even billions) of dollars, and may even lead to the loss of your lawsuit.
More information on Internet Law and how if affects your company is available in the book Cyberlaw: A Legal Arsenal For Online Business.