Internet usage increased substantially in 1997. Due to pricing changes, for instance, America Online now has more subscribers than the Chicago-metropolitan area has residents. One research group concluded that 15 percent of the U.S. population now uses e-mail, up from 2 percent in 1992 with a prediction of about 50 percent within 5 years. Another study concluded that Internet use has more than doubled in the last 18 months and that almost 25 percent of all persons in the U.S. over the age of 16 have used the Internet.
This boom in usage has lead to
a substantial increase in legal issues
and problems as well as substantial creativity by lawyers in attempting
to resolve such problems over the
We are probably all aware of the more publicized legal matters, such as the difficulties Microsoft faced in attempting to market its Web browser while complying with a 1995 U.S. government consent decree prohibiting various restrictive practices; and the civil class action suits and state consumer actions against AOL for service difficulties that arose after AOL initiated its fixed-fee pricing; and, of course, the media has duly informed us about the year-2000 problem and the host of legal problems that it will bring.
Of equal importance are the host of less notorious legal issues spawned by Internet use. The cases involving Net users are far too numerous to discuss in detail in this review. Suffice it to say that the authorities, and civil plaintiffs as well, went after stalkers, spammers, scammers, pornographers, defamers, infringers, hackers, crackers, gamblers, drug pushers, pyramid scheme operators, stock traders, fences, term paper purveyors and even parents who neglected their children and surfed the Net instead. A difficulty raised by these issues, of course, is trying to judge Internet activities by the application of traditional legal concepts. Nevertheless, lawyers were successful in doing so this past year.
A recent example is a "spamming" case tried in federal court, CompuServe Inc. vs. Cyber Promotions Inc., 962 F.Supp. 1015 (S.D. Ohio 1997). The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio held that the defendant's sending of unsolicited, commercial e-mail to CompuServe subscribers without CompuServe's consent (spamming) constituted a trespass to chattels under traditional Restatement (Second) of Torts theory. Traditional theories have been tested on other fronts as well.
Jurisdiction has been a major issue in both civil and criminal litigation, and there is no uniformity in the decisions to date. The courts have had some difficulty in determining whether and what Internet activities constitute sufficient "minimum contacts" for the exercise of personal jurisdiction. In Minnesota vs. Granite Gate Resorts Inc., 1996 WL 76731 (Minn. 1996) aff'd 568 N.W.2d. 715 (1997), it was held that Minnesota had jurisdiction over a Nevada company and its president for offering betting information to Minnesota residents. The court found that the posting of information on a Web page and the distribution of information in all the states by an e-mail distribution list created sufficient minimum contacts with Minnesota.
A similar result was reached by a federal judge in Massachusetts, in Digital Equipment Corp. vs. AltaVista Technology Inc., 960 F.Supp. 456 (D. Mass. 1997), who concluded that the defendant was subject to jurisdiction in Massachusetts by reason of the solicitation of sales of advertising and software on its Web page from another jurisdiction.
The same result had been reached near the end of  by a federal court in Arizona in EDIAS Software International vs. BASIS International Ltd., 947 F.Supp. 413 (Ariz. 1996). This court, in a case involving charges of defamation and
tortious interference, applied a traditional tort theory of jurisdiction and concluded that jurisdiction was
present because the out-of-state defendant knew that his out-of-state activities would damage the Arizona plaintiff and thus have an effect in Arizona. The court in fact emphasized that the defendant should not escape traditional notions of