Internet Legal and Ethical Issues

Network Literacy January 10, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

This section focuses on the basic legal issues that relate to your online activities, and the concrete steps you can take to maintain your intellectual integrity and keep yourself and your institution out of legal trouble.

Chief among them: intellectual property issues (copyright, public domain, fair use, Creative Commons licenses), distinguishing plagiarism from copyright infringement, libel, public disclosure of private information, third-party contributions to your website, and the legal matters surrounding online collaborations. Those of you who manage programs in which volunteers act as agents of your institution will want to spend time helping volunteers understand the basics of both intellectual property and libel laws, and monitoring their online activities.

Many areas of Internet law remain unsettled, which in some instances makes it difficult to develop clear, unambiguous statements about what constitutes lawful behavior or breaches of lawful behavior online. Some digital-era copyright dilemmas are downright hilarious!

Three characteristics of the Internet challenge the ability of lawmakers and courts to apply matters of copyright and trademark, libel, privacy, free speech, and criminal activity to online activities:

  • Its speed.
  • Its lack of geographic/physical/geopolitical boundaries.
  • The ability of contributors to remain anonymous.

Of course, the same characteristics give the Internet much of its power as a medium of communication and innovation.

The articles that follow will explore some of the Internet and legal issues associated with online activity, and how they affect a user's ability to operate with comfort in a networked environment:

(Items not hyperlinked are in the process of being reviewed and published. Check out the Network Literacy blog posts and professional development for current discussions surrounding similar topics)



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Connect with us

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Google+


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



Network Literacy Articles

What is network literacy?

Computer literacy

Online security and privacy

Internet Legal and Ethical Issues

Social networking tools

Evaluation and metrics

Research and trends

Find us, Follow Us, Join In

Network Literacy Blog Posts

Webinars/Professional Development


This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.