Sure, the Internet is still (sort of) the Wild Frontier, but that doesn’t mean you should behave like a bandit, desperado, or vigilante when using it.
While the forum itself may be evolving, the rules of law, and good behavior, are basically intact.
So here are some Internet pointers, which although seemingly obvious, continually arise during the course of our practice.
Do Not Click “Send” in Anger: An angry email may feel good and cathartic when being written, but should be allowed to stew before being sent. And be mindful of the parties to whom you are sending it. Sometimes catharsis turns into liability (e.g. libel). Let your letter sit a bit before sending. Often you will find that the dispute or issue can be resolved in a non-combative way, and without exposing you to liability.
Formality is a Show of Respect and Professionalism: Just because you’re sending email does not mean you should ignore spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and a salutation. Save the IM texting abbreviations and emoticons for your friends. Business on the Internet is still business, and professionalism is key.
When in a Dispute with Someone, Avoid “CC”ing Your Lawyer Unless You Intend to Follow Through: If you are having a dispute with someone online, make some attempts to resolve it before you start name-dropping or “CC”ing your attorney. Rarely will “lawyering up” at initial contact resolve the problem — and it can result in a negative effect.
This office makes a point to all our clients that we tell the truth, do not make idle threats, and do not undertake assignments if we do not have the authority to follow them through. (See our Disclaimer). We prefer to resolve issues before litigation, and to only get involved or litigate when necessary. Litigation is a last resort.
In sum, if you intend to stick an attorney’s name at the end of your email, please give him or her a heads-up, and be prepared to follow through.
Do Not Take Photos, Graphics, or Text from Other Websites Without Permission: Here’s the deal: If it was created, by someone other than you, they probably have rights to it. Don’t think that just because it is easy to download Internet material, you have any right to use it. Whether the site from which you downloaded the material had rights is a non-issue — someone other than you probably has rights to it.
Do Not Register or Redirect a Domain Name Similar to your Competitor or Adversary: Come on folks. Don’t register the “.net” or other top-level domain of your competitor or your ex. And please, please do not redirect it to your own site. Also, don’t buy some mega-company’s “.info” site, or a “.com” misspelling, etc. That’s called Cybersquatting and Typosquatting, and can have serious legal repercussions. Sure, the company or party may not even have trademark or other rights to the domain name, but even if you are in the right, you probably do not want to pay what it will cost to find that out if you get sued.
Do Not Post on Forums or Message Boards Asking for a “Hacker” to Take Down an Adversary’s Website: This seems too downright silly to even have to mention, but we have seen it happen. It is a bad idea in so many ways, and illegal. Even hackers agree on this one.
Do Not Threaten Anyone With Physical Violence: More obviousness. To begin, it’s a Federal crime. See 18 USC § 875. Also, it’s a very bad idea. Don’t do it. Free speech has its limits, and it doesn’t matter how angry you are or whether you actually mean it, a threat will be saved online somewhere and may come back to haunt you. (This applies to any digital media, including voicemail).
Do Not Sell Brand Name Products on the Internet Unless they are Actually Manufactured by the Brand Name: No, really.
Do Not Participate in “Click Fraud”: Do not click on your competitors’ pay-per-click (PPC) ads without reason. It serves no purpose except to cost them money (and may give rise to liability for you). PPC is what keeps your favorite search engines afloat and may be what keeps you in business. If you see an ad that interests you, but you do not intend to purchase any goods or services, copy the link into your browser’s address bar. That saves the advertiser unnecessary costs, and hopefully, he or she would do the same for you.
Save, Archive, Backup: Your hard drive will ultimately crash. Don’t doubt it. Backup your emails, files, and anything else important to other drives and CD/DVDs — often.