Web Site Legal Issues

Executive summary:

This section discusses the legal issues involved with the creation of a web site. Many of the topics discussed on this page are covered in greater detail elsewhere in BitLaw. The purpose of this page is to present in a single page the issues that must be addressed during the creation of a web site.

BitLaw's discussion of web site legal issues is divided into the following parts:

This page was written in part by Brad Bolin, an intern working for Daniel A. Tysver.

Copyright concerns when creating a web site:

A party is guilty of copyright infringement if they violate one of the five exclusive rights given to copyright owners under the Copyright Act. Included in those rights are the right to prevent others from reproducing (or copying) a work, publicly displaying a work, or distributing a work. As a result, web page authors should take care not to copy the work of others. An Internet service provider can also be found liable for copyright infringement even when they are not directly engaged in the copying of protected materials, as is explained in more detail in the BitLaw section on ISP liability.

Domain name concerns:

The selection and protection of a domain name may be the most important detail in the creation of a web site. Domain names function as the address for a web site, and disputes over domain names have become more common and more heated as the popularity of the Internet grows.

Trademark concerns:

A trademark is a word, image, slogan, or other device designed to identify the goods or services of a particular party. Trademark infringement occurs when one party utilizes the mark of another in such a way as to create a likelihood of confusion, mistake and/or deception with the consuming public. The confusion created can be that the defendant's products or services are the same as that of the trademark owner, or that the defendant is somehow associated, affiliated, connected, approved, authorized or sponsored by trademark owner. Since most web sites will contain discussions of products or services, web site developers should be aware of the potential trademark issues.


The term defamation refers to a false statement made about someone or some organization that is damaging to their reputation. For a statement to be defamatory, the statement must be published to a third party, and the person publishing the statement must have known or should have known that the statement was false. The law of defamation is complex, as it has been determined by numerous court decisions rather than one national statute. In addition, a claim of defamation is subject to a variety of defenses, such as the First Amendment and (of course) the defense that the statement was true. Because of the complexity of defamation law, a full explanation of this area will not be set forth here, and is saved for others to provide.

While the Internet provides a new context in which a defaming statement can be made and published, there is little new law relating to Internet defamation other than liability for service providers. Nonetheless, web page developers must be careful to avoid defaming someone in their pages. If a statement is being made that may damage the reputation of a person or organization, care should be taken to make sure that the statement is not defaming.

Linking and framing concerns:

Links between pages are the raison d'etre for the world wide web. Without widespread linking, the web as we know it would not exist. Nevertheless, there are questions about the legality of such connections. For those interested in more information on any of the subjects below, Bitlaw also contains an extended discussion of linking liability.