What's Digital Law?


Digital Law relates to crimes of stealing or causing damage to other people’s work, identity, or digital property.
  • Stealing someone's identity is called identity theft. (Covered in Section #7, Digital Security.)
  • Stealing someone's digital property can be intellectual property theft, digital piracy, or plagiarism.
  • Causing damage to others would be crimes such as hacking or creating and sending viruses.

About Digital Property 

What's Legal:

  • You can purchase copies of songs, software, or movies from sites that legally sell them.
  • You can make a copy of a song from a CD you’ve purchased and convert it to another format to listen on your own (not someone else's) mp3 player.

What's Illegal:

  • You can’t download songs, software, or movies from other people who've bought them.
  • You can’t upload songs, software, or movies that you own for others to download.
  • You can’t record music off an online music radio site.
  • You can’t make copies of a CD, DVD, or mp3 download you’ve purchased to give to others.

All these types of files: music, games, movies, and software are considered “digital property” and all are owned by the person or company who created them. That person has the right to say whether you can copy and use their material or not, and how much they choose to charge. Obtaining a copy of them without paying is called Digital Piracy and it's the same as stealing.

The No Electronic Theft Act was signed into law by President Clinton in December 1997 that makes it illegal to pirate (download and copy) games, software, music, and videos. The statute of limitations on this law is 5 years--you can be prosecuted for up to 5 years after the illegal copying or sharing took place.


Copyright:  Is the law that protects the rights held by the creator, developer, or author over their own original work. These works may consist of electronically stored words, photograph, music, work of visual art, or performance art and thereby includes digital property.

Copyright Infringement (Violation):  Is when a person violates a copyright by either reproducing, adapting, publicly distributing, performing, or displaying a work without permission from the creator.

Copyright law applies whether or not the material has a copyright notice symbol ©, which means it's been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. (Copyright differs from Patents, which protect people's inventions, and from Trademarks ®, which protect brand names.)

Two Types of Copyright Infringement:

  1. Digital Piracy:  Unauthorized reproducing (copying) and distributing (sharing) of digitized property: electronic files and audio-visual media. Obtaining copies of songs, computer software, videos games, and movies without paying for them is all considered Digital Piracy.
  2. Plagiarism: The copyright violation of using printed words, photos, or illustrations in your own product without permission - where one person copies another's work and uses it as their own. (More on Plagiarism is covered in topic #7: Digital Rights and Responsibilities.)

Aftab, Parry. "Downloading Music Safety." WiredSafety.org. Wired Kids, Inc. Web. 22 June 2010. <http://www.wiredsafety.org/safety/downloading_music_safety/dlm3.html>.

"Computer Hacking Law & Legal Definition." Computer Hacking Law and Legal Definition. USLegal, Inc., 2010. Web. 21 June 2010. <http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/computer-hacking/>.

Ribble, Mike. "Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship." Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately. 2010. Web. 23 June 2010. <http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html>.

Last modified: Tuesday, 26 June 2012, 10:27 AM