Which laws apply on the Internet?

Region: Ontario Answer # 359

How Canadian laws apply on the Internet

At this time, most provincial and federal legislators in Canada are reluctant to create any new laws that might suggest the Internet is a different legal environment with different rules. Many of the rules and laws that apply to non-Internet situations apply equally to the Internet.

That said, governments are constantly broadening the scope of various laws. The law has come to cover new technological changes, such as electronic meetings, form filing, access to records, and legal authority for using digital or electronic signatures. Also, individual laws dealing with privacy rights, the use of personal information, rights of intellectual property owners, broadcasting over the Internet, and other areas often include specific laws to govern Internet issues, for example, Canada’s new Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) and the Internet specific provisions of the Copyright Modernization Act.

Courts and lawmakers are developing a body of case law and legislation addressing online rights and obligations. Not all courts and lawmakers agree. Inconsistencies therefore exist between various jurisdictions, but there are some general rules:

  • If you create or exercise physical control over Internet content (such as words, pictures, designs, etc.), you will likely be responsible for damage you cause, as would be the case in any other medium
  • If it is within your power to exercise control over content and you learn it is infringing another’s rights or a law, you will likely be liable if you do nothing about it
  • If you directly or knowingly infringe the rights of another, such as violating someone’s copyright (downloading music, plagiarizing writings, etc.), you will be liable for damages caused
  • If you unintentionally or indirectly infringe the rights of another after exercising due diligence, you may still be liable but there may be a reduction in damages awarded by a court
  • If you use the Internet to commit an act elsewhere that is illegal in Canada, you can still be held responsible under Canadian law
  • If there is not a real and substantial connection between a Canadian defendant and the damages suffered by another in a foreign jurisdiction, courts here are unlikely to enforce a claim or judgment

You should also keep in mind that certain Canadian criminal laws may be broken if you develop or create illegal materials in Canada, even if such materials are subsequently made available from a server located outside Canada.

Laws of other countries

When material is placed on the Internet, it can generally be accessed from anywhere in the world. Such material must obviously comply with the laws of the country where the server is located. However, depending on the nature of the material, it may also need to comply with the laws of the other countries where the material may be accessed. This can include intellectual property laws, unfair business practices legislation, consumer protection laws, criminal laws, securities legislation and many others. Of course, there are always grey zones, and individual legal jurisdictions may take different approaches.

If you plan to set up a business on the Internet and plan on marketing your products or services to people in other countries, you should speak to a lawyer that specializes in Internet law and electronic commerce.


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