The internet is a network of computers. No one owns it and it has no central location or administration. For most users connection is made through a company that offers internet access. These companies are known as internet service providers (ISPs).
The three types of people or organisations involved in accessing content on the internet are:
- the content provider, who creates the material, which is then uploaded onto a website;
- the internet content host (ICH), who provides the website (the space on the internet for this content) and has control over what is uploaded (published).
- the ISP, who supplies internet carriage services so that the material can be transmitted to individual computers, and then viewed and downloaded by members of the public.
Legal issues relating to internet use are usefully divided into three main functions:
- the publication of information or provision of content including text, sound, images and film;
- the sale of goods and services, known generally as e-commerce; and
- communication and networking services, most commonly email and related services such as Twitter, Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP) (such as Skype), and social networking sites such as Facebook.
These functions raise many legal issues including copyright, consumer protection, prohibited content, defamation and privacy, and the legislation that regulates e-commerce and telecommunications.
This chapter deals with the law from the perspective of the individual who is using the internet to find information, publish material and engage in e-commerce or communication with others. It also offers guidance from a legal perspective on managing children's internet access.
There are numerous pieces of legislation that have an impact on internet use, or which govern issues that arise from the use of the internet. At the Commonwealth level we have:
- Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)
- Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth)
- Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)
- Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
- Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (Cth)
- Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth)
- Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)
- Spam Act 2003 (Cth)
- Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)
- Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)
- Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (Tas)
- Australian Consumer Law (Tasmania) Act 2010 (Tas)
- Sale of Goods Act 1896 (Tas)
- Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas)
Laws of other Australian states and territories, and some overseas laws, may also be relevant.