E-Mail and Internet Policies at the Workplace
More and more organizations are concerned about their liability when their employees use e-mail and the Internet at the workplace. These organizations are asking themselves questions like: are they responsible when their employee posts copyright infringing materials on the organization's website; or can their employee bind them to a contract by virtue of e-mail correspondence; and what are the ethical and legal considerations in monitoring their employees' e-mail.
To address these and other legal and non-legal concerns, organizations are beginning to discuss and develop "E-mail and Internet/Intranet Policies."
These policies can deal with everything from the web-corporate image of an organization to copyright infringement to links to pornographic sites. Depending on the nature of the organization, each one has to determine what makes sense for its own policy. Regarding the use of e-mail, these are some of the important issues:
- who should have access to e-mail and the Internet
- controlling employee use of e-mail
- using e-mail with confidential information
- liability for employee conduct via e-mail
- accepting unsolicited ideas by e-mail
- making defamatory or libelous comments on company letterhead
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The use of the Internet, specifically the web, raises other important issues:
- ensuring websites have no copyright infringing materials
- properly using a trade mark on the web
- advertising and promoting an organization on the Internet
- linking to other websites and other websites linking to your website
- viewing pornographic material from the web on an organization's computer
As can be seen, an E-mail and Internet/Intranet Policy should cover a broad range of issues. In some cases, it is a matter of protecting the proprietary information and intellectual property of an organization. In other cases, it is to establish liability for illegal activities taking place at the workplace. Some matters relate to an organization's relationship with their employees (i.e., matters of privacy), while others ensure that their employees understand situations in which they might be representing their employer, and even binding their employers to provide a good or service. And like with all corporate/organizational policies, it is better to contemplate the issues that may arise rather than fix the problems after the fact.
Canadian On-Line Content Liability Study
Although court cases have dealt with the issue of content-related Internet liability, Canadian and U.S. copyright statutes have not yet legislated solutions to this issue. The Canadian government has recently commissioned four consultants to undertake a consultation process on this issue and to provide a written report by early 1997. The report will discuss information controls, privacy issues and the protection of works and policy models in Canada and other OECD countries. It will discuss liability for Internet service providers, Bulletin Board Services, newsgroups and other related services and pornography, hate propaganda, defamation and privacy of confidential information, copyright and intellectual property. The study assumes that liability is possible on the Internet. According to the study's terms of reference, its priority is to examine "who is or should be liable" and to describe the environment and issues in relation to liability and not to make recommendations for policy, legislative or regulatory changes. To be on the mailing list for the final report, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or LEDUC.PIERRE@ic.gc.ca.
Two New International Copyright Treaties for Digital Works
On December 20, 1996, after three weeks of discussions in Geneva under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization ("WIPO") at a Diplomatic Conference on Certain Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Questions, negotiators from 160 countries reached agreement on two new treaties, the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. (A third treaty proposed to provide protection for databases not otherwise protected by copyright law was not discussed at the Conference.) The treaties as adopted are at http://www.wipo.int.
Of note is that the right of reproduction which was originally in the draft Copyright Treaty was omitted from the version as adopted (this right would relate to browsing on the Internet); and the treatment of liability for copyright infringement in digital media was omitted from both the draft and adopted versions. Both of these areas will remain subject to national regulation. Of further note is that the Performers' Treaty as adopted only applies to audio works and not to audio-visual works (the treatment of which will be the object of further study).
Each treaty will come into effect, for participating states, only after 30 instruments of ratification or accession are deposited with the Director General of WIPO (accession by the European Union will account for one half the required number). How long the process will take cannot be known. Membership will remain open for the outstanding countries after the treaty or treaties come into effect. In many cases, modifications will be required to the domestic copyright legislation of participating states.