While the internet can be a great place to interact and allows free expression, it can be useful to know how free online expression can sometimes have unexpected consequences for the user, including getting into trouble with the law.
Being aware of how common online activities can get you into trouble can help reduce the risk of legal consequences.
Here are some examples of illegal behaviour and tips to keep yourself out of trouble:
|Risky behaviour||Ways to keep out of trouble||What can go wrong|
|If you make threats or derogatory comments on a social networking site, and it becomes public you could be considered to be inciting hatred of an individual.||Threatening people with violence online or offline is a criminal offence. Never post comments encouraging violence against individuals, groups of people or organisations.||A 19 year old South Australian man was convicted of criminal defamation when he made hateful negative comments about a police officer. The court considered his comments as inciting acts of violence against a person in authority.|
|If you post offensive or abusive comments or unwanted images on someone else’s social networking site you could be found guilty of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.||Deliberately causing offence with defamatory comments or images online can be a criminal offence. Never post offensive or upsetting comments or images.||A 22 year old Queensland woman, received a suspended jail sentence for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence after she posted offensive material on a Facebook tribute page for a woman who had been murdered.|
|Negative comments or posts on blogs about products, services or businesses can lead to court cases against you.||Some companies encourage comment on their brand or product. But it is not always the case. Think twice before making claims about a product or service that may be defamation.||A man was sued for $30,000 in damages and costs after using a pseudonym to post defamatory comments about a Perth business and its chairman.|
|If you upload to the internet footage of yourself or others engaging in illegal activities, be aware that that footage could be used as evidence against you in court.||Uploading videos or images of yourself or other people behaving stupidly may seem funny or entertaining but some stupid actions could be illegal. These activities are illegal even if they were intended for the internet. It is foolish to post videos of yourself or others engaging in illegal activity.||
A man who placed a webcam on the dashboard of his car to capture his ‘burnouts’ on a suburban road was charged with reckless driving after he posted the film on Facebook.
A Victorian woman encouraged her teenage daughter and her friends to physically assault another teenage girl while she filmed the attack. The footage was posted on MySpace. She was charged with affray and causing serious injury by aiding and abetting teen attackers
|Storing or passing on images of children in sexualised poses or engaging in sexual activity is illegal.||
If someone sends you images of children in inappropriate poses or engaging in sexual activity, it is illegal to be involved in distribution of such images. Report them to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at www.acma.gov.au/hotline or the Australian Federal Police. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you can report
anonymously to Crime Stoppers by calling 1800 333 000.
|Many people have been convicted and jailed for using their mobile phone or computers to view or send inappropriate images of children.|
|Downloading or distributing pirated music and/or movies or copyright material without permission is illegal.||Criminal penalties for copyright infringement may be up to $60,500 and 5 years imprisonment per offence for individuals. Downloading music and videos from legitimate sources will reduce the risk of computer viruses and malware as well legal action against you. If you’re not sure, don’t download it.||A 21 year old man was jailed for three months after being convicted of uploading on the internet a pirated copy of the Simpsons Movie which he recorded on his mobile on the movie’s first day in cinemas.|
|If you persistently send messages or continue to try and make contact with someone who does not want to have contact with you, your behaviour could be considered stalking.||If your request to friend someone is rejected or you have been blocked, think twice before persisting.||A Melbourne woman was refused bail when she appeared in court for the second time on stalking charges. The Melbourne woman was accused of stealing a celebrity’s identity and harassing her and her family through electronic messages. She had previously been bailed on condition she have no access to the internet or email. She did not comply and was rearrested.|
- Information on prohibited online content can be obtained from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at www.acma.gov.au
- For information on high tech crimes go to the Australian High Tech Crime Centre
- If you're looking for information on online scams go to www.scamwatch.com.au
- If you're caring for children, information on staying safe online is available from the cybersmart website at www.cybersmart.gov.au
- For more information about copyright in Australia go to the Australian Copyright Council
- If you're interested in learning about how film and computer games are classified before they are legally available to the public go to the Classification Website