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No bright line re Internet, intellectual property and downloading

The term "bright line" is common legal jargon, an expression that is sometimes offered up in the context of a clearly defining and unambiguous rule or standard.

Is there a bright-line test regarding traffic lights, for example?

Of course there is. Red means stop. Green means go. It's as simple as that.

Given the tremendous complexity of law, though, and the element of "maybe" that seemingly permeates so much of legal discussion, a bright line is often hard to arrive at.

Take Internet use, for example, which still seems to be an unsettled frontier and brave new world for users even many years following its creation.

What is permissible? What is unlawful? Sometimes it's simply difficult to know.

A recent article focused on unlawful use of copyrighted material on the Internet serves to remind readers that a slippery slope of sorts can muddy many arguments positing a user's unlawful Internet use through alleged cybercrimes such as hacking or illegal downloading and use of infringed copyrighted material.

As the above article makes quite clear, powerful enforcement agencies are forcefully talking about upping their game in their efforts to combat digital piracy. Reportedly, the joint efforts of the FBI and another group recently shut down one Internet platform alleged to be a "prolific music piracy site." And the U.S. Department of Justice recently cited a "new collaborative strategy" between government enforcement agencies and various partners aimed at identifying and prosecuting parties who engage in wrongful Internet conduct.

Keeping the Internet safe for commerce in California and elsewhere and simultaneously protecting property rights is unquestionably important, but so, too, is remembering that a wide-scale assault against alleged criminal activity can net innocent victims as well as persons having clear criminal intent.

And in either case, it is always worth reiterating the fundamentally important notion in a country operating under the rule of law that persons criminally investigated or charged with crime have the legal right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

That presumption is becoming increasingly important in the realm of computer-related activities.

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