Predicting the events of a coming year is often an exercise in setting one’s self up to look like a fool. If any of us were good at predictions, we would be sitting on yachts floating around the world contemplating what to do with our lottery winnings. Even so, it is a tradition to attempt to predict future events this time of year, so let’s look at potential developments for 2015 in the field of internet law.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, better known as “DMCA,” is the law controlling copyright infringement situations on the web. The law is often abused because parties filing complaints face little risk in submitting takedown notices that lack merit. The DMCA agent with Google, for example, processes millions of takedown requests each year. As the level of abuse has increased, calls for Congress to modify the DMCA to limit the abuse have grown to a crescendo.
So, will the law be changed in 2015? It is unlikely. As you’ve probably noticed, there is a slight case of gridlock underway in the nation’s capital. The likelihood of Congress and the President agreeing on an issue such as copyright reform is unlikely if for no other reason than neither party appears particularly compelled to raise the issue much less do so with any passion. Perhaps things will be different in 2016.
Apps are all the rage these days given the explosion in popularity of smartphones. 2014 saw the first serious regulatory enforcement actions in the field. Apple, Amazon, and Google all settled with the FTC overcharging issues. Yelp, TinyCo, and other companies faced claims of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act via their apps and moved to settle the claims quickly.
We can expect this trend to continue in 2015. Apps are a fertile field for legal action for the simple reason that so many of them have little in the way of legal documentation. No terms of service. No privacy policies. Expect the FTC and private parties to feast on the unwary in the field.
Internet of Things
The Internet of things refers to the digitalization of devices across our lives. While it is evident smartphones connect to the web, most people do not realize that many of their other electronic devices connect as well including:
- Kitchen appliances
- Utility meters
The “internet of things” raises serious privacy questions. Should companies:
- Be allowed to sweep up information on how you use these devices?
- Be able to use the information for marketing purposes or sell it to others for said purposes?
- Share your information with government agencies, whether voluntarily or involuntarily?
These questions are currently being debated in numerous government committees with the input of representatives from business as well as privacy proponents. We should see the first regulations issued in 2015…and it will be a miracle if they are anything less than a total mess. Expect legal challenges to said regulations, which should tie things up in court for a few years. Regardless, 2015 should see the start of the campaign to regulate the Internet of Things kicks off in earnest.
Privacy has been a hot-button issue for the last few years. Unfortunately, the federal government has enacted no privacy laws to speak of given the politically charged legislative environment. Instead, states such as California have passed numerous privacy laws that, frankly, overreach their legal authority.
In 2015, we should see more strenuous efforts to challenge these laws, particularly where the requirements of one state clearly conflict with those of another. Whether this will result in Congress stepping in to pass sweeping privacy initiatives is unclear, but one tends to expect there will be no real movement until after the next Presidential election.
Google and the EU
Is Google a monopoly? It is a simple question, but difficult to answer. In the United States, the answer so far has been that the company is not. In Europe, the topic is still being debated, and there are vocal groups in the EU administration who believe Google should be broken up.
The primary issue is not whether Google is a monopoly in the search field. Instead, the question is whether the company is pursuing anti-competitive practices by rankings its services high in the Google search results. Do a search for a topic that Google provides services in and one typically finds a Google site in the top 10. Agencies in the EU are unhappy about this development, and there is at least some momentum to force Google into spinning off those services as independent companies.
This discussion is in the very early stages, It is, however, a story to watch closely. A move to partition Google by the EU would likely create momentum for a similar breakup in the United States.
It can be difficult to keep in mind that the Internet is a relatively new medium in our lives. The commercialization of the web is really only 20 years old. The Internet is still developing at a breakneck pace, and one should expect the laws surrounding it to continue to do so as well in 2015 and subsequent years.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.