[Note: These are my present understandings regarding specific areas of internet law; you will want to vet this material to your own satisfaction, and will also need to monitor this ever-changing environment. - DS]
Many readers here will be aware of the internet’s beginnings: From research and development of the early ‘60s by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, yielding the ARPAnet, on through the Department of Defense’s work, giving rise to the DARPAnet (check here if interested), we eventually arrived at today’s Internet.
By 1991, a limited internet was operating beyond governmental development, and serving a degree of academic user body, and that infrastructure evolved into the large widespread commercial use we see today.
In examining the period comprising the early 1990s onward and the Internet’s associated use, we can realize that Internet law has had a generation to develop. Of particular interest to both individual users and business are National and International laws regulating the Internet’s use – here we’ll concentrate on two things: 1) Online contracts and 2) Privacy.
Changing Terms: An important principle to understand:
Hardcopy Contracts, Purchase Orders, Requests for Proposals (RFPs), etc.
Be aware of an emerging trend and practice: Increasingly, organizations are issuing hard-copy form contracts and other similar documentation that do not have all terms and conditions printed on them. Instead, they incorporate these by reference to the organization’s website. The date of the hardcopy item, with associated signatures, determines which version of the posted terms and conditions applies. Watch for this situation to supplant “fine print,” comprehensive, contracts and documents. Hardcopy forms don’t have to be changed as often when “offloading” the details to a web reference.
This sort of “Hybrid” documentation has been challenged on the grounds that specific terms and conditions are not sufficiently conspicuous. However, courts have already upheld the validity of these incorporations by reference; there only need be a clearly identified website in the document, and that website indicated as harboring the proper provisions.
Next Up: Online Privacy.