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Copyright and the Internet

The application of the law on the Internet

Internet technology is developing faster than the laws that govern it. Laws that apply to the Internet have been established either by legislation or the courts; copyright laws are among them. A common myth about the Internet is that anything posted online can be copied or downloaded. In actual fact, anything you see on the Internet has the potential of being protected by copyright just like anything you see in the library or bookstore. Under modern copyright law, the formalities of registration and copyright notice are no longer required.

Surfing the net

The copyright statute is triggered by the unauthorized act of copying, publishing, performing (by digital means or otherwise), displaying in public, or revising (make derivatives) any copyright protected materials. Your PC automatically makes copies when you surf the Internet in various ways.

  • Copies are made is by simply viewing a page on the Internet. This causes a copy of that page to be made and stored in the Random Access Memory (RAM) of your PC.
  • Browsers also make copies so you can return to a site faster; this is call caching and is technically sufficient to trigger the copyright statute.

Even though these copies are made, those who merely surf the Internet are not liable for copyright infringement because of Implied Consent. Legal scholars argue that that anyone who posts content on the Internet expects people to visit their site and they therefore know that visitors’ PCs will make copies in the process. The website host grants visitors an implied license or permission to make those copies.

The issue of copyright and the internet occurs when users consume the information not in its original state, either by downloading it or reusing the content online without due credit.

Downloading on the net

Downloading content from any web page is the equivalent to making a copy of the content, the same as making copies of a book in the library. It makes sense to presume that by doing so you will infringe the copyright of the author of that content. To comply with copyright law, you must receive permission from the copyright holder before you download any content. The exception to this is Fair Use. The complexity and uncertainty of a Fair Use analysis make it both risky and cumbersome to apply to small projects involving borrowing Internet materials. Some websites expressly give permission to download content. For the most part, if they tell you that you can download from their site, you can, as long as they hold the copyright to the content you want to use.

File sharing

Presently, the most deliberate copyright-infringing activity on the Internet is sharing music, movies, or software. It is illegal to download these pieces of content and can have a damaging impact on your business. Music, movies and software downloaded on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are of the biggest concern to their respective industries. Protection of copyright is important in ensuring the UK’s film, TV, music and software industries get a fair deal for their work.

Downloading files illegally can also make your systems more open to receiving harmful content such as spyware and viruses, unsolicited advertising and pop-ups. Spyware can infiltrate systems and firewalls compromising network security leaving your business at risk.


Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Fair Use Fact Sheet – The UK Copyright Service
UK Copyright Law Fact Sheet – The UK Copyright Service
Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

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