Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Does Viewing A Website Constitute Possession Of That Site?

from the ah,-tangible-laws-for-an-intangible-world dept

You can't say that people weren't warned ahead of time that this would be a legal issue at some point. Two and a half years ago we linked to a story saying that new "first offense" anti-child porn laws were going to run into problems because it was difficult to define possession. The issue, was that if someone just views a webpage by accident, any images are likely to be stored in the browser's cache. So is it fair to lock someone up for child porn "possession" if they just happened to view a website? Especially in an age of spyware and adware that often force unsuspecting surfers to porn websites. Slashdot points out that this exact issue is being debated in a Georgia courtroom right now -- as someone who viewed some child porn websites is being charged with possession of child pornography. This is an issue that's obviously going to come up again in the future as well, and will impact things well beyond child porn (which always seems to cloud the issue, because child porn itself is so despicable, people forget to look at the actual legal issues). For example, if viewing a website is considered possession, then there should be plenty of copyright questions concerning putting just about anything online, as just about viewing a website is making an "unauthorized" copy (the response, of course, being that by putting it on the web, they're authorizing your ability to copy it, but it could get tricky). The real point, though, is that these are laws for an offline world being applied to the online one, and people are realizing that they don't quite match up nicely.

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