Does that headline sound like a sales pitch or what? Although I am an internet lawyer, there is little doubt the idea is something you need to consider if you run online businesses. The Internet evolves at a breakneck pace and so does the law governing it. Here are a few questions to ask an Internet lawyer you are considering hiring.
If you are as old as I am, you might remember the Fram oil filter commercials. They suggested you needed to change your oil filters regularly and use high-quality Fram filters. The slogan was, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” The implication was you could pay $30 or so now to protect your engine or $3,000 or so to get a new engine after major problems occurred.
The same basic idea applies to a lawyer for your online business. The goal is to use a lawyer ahead of time to position your site and business in such a manner as to prevent problems before they happen. Yes, you will spend a bit of money doing this, but you imagine how much you will spend defending a lawsuit and paying any settlement or judgment.
For example, I occasionally browse online webmaster forums to see what legal issues are trending. One member was facing a copyright complaint based on content uploaded by users of their site. They were completely unaware of the DMCA and that they could have gained immunity from any such suit if they had complied with the Act. Getting into compliance would have cost them under $1,000. Now they were looking at attorney’s fees in excess of $25,000 and a potential judgment of who knows how much.
When looking for lawyers, you always need to flesh out whether a person is qualified to provide services in your business area – internet law. Many attorneys who are not qualified will tell potential clients they are because they assume they can swing it. To make sure you are getting someone of quality, here are a few questions to ask an Internet lawyer to see if they know their stuff:
1. How does the Communications Decency Act protect sites?
Answer: The “CDA” protects sites from the slanderous statements of their users and any other claim that requires the user to “publish” a statement.
2. How long does a site user have to file a DMCA counter-notice?
Answer: This is a trick answer. The DMCA does not call out a specific period.
3. Is it okay to include a statement in the terms for the site indicating I can change my terms whenever I like, and the user agrees to the changes if they keep using the site?
Answer: No. Courts have overruled this as illusory, which is a legal term essentially meaning the deal is unfair.
I am an attorney licensed to handle clients based in California or outside of the United States, so there is a pretty good chance I can’t help you if you are reading this post. These questions and answers are applicable to any online business, so any Internet lawyer should know the answers off the top of their head.
If you are located in California or internationally, feel free to contact me with your internet law issues.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
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