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Just 44% of web users know what qualifies as illegal activities online

Website warns Brits could become 'accidental outlaws'

Less than half (44 percent) of UK web users are aware of what qualifies as illegal activities on the web, says knowthenet.org.uk.

A study of 2,000 Brits by the online advice site funded by Nominet revealed just 41 percent agreed when asked whether they were very confident their online actions were lawful, compared to 58 percent when asked about their offline activities. Furthermore, the figure dropped to just 17 percent in 16 to 24 year olds. According to Knowthenet.org.uk, many web users are at risk of becoming 'accidental outlaws' by not fully understanding how the law affects them when we're online.

Just a third of web users knew that uploading copyrighted material, such as photos, songs or lyrics to a personal website or social network, was illegal while just 35 percent also knew using copy from other websites on your own blog or website without credit is against the law.

Furthermore, 62 percent of those surveyed had no idea they were breaking the law by discussing or publishing details of a super injunction online and 58 percent weren't aware that defamation of others on social networks is also illegal.

When it comes to uploading or downloading music illegally (that they have not paid-for and is not copyright-free) just 44 percent knew this was illegal.

"The results of the study show a worrying lack of understanding of how the law applies online, particularly amongst younger age groups," said Phil Kingsland, site director at knowthenet.org.uk.

"In the past year we've seen many cases of people being convicted for offences committed online and, whilst there are those who set out to deliberately break the law and get punished, there are many others who could find themselves in trouble without realising they were doing anything wrong."

Knowthenet.org.uk highlighted one participant that when discussing the incitement of violence during the London riots, revealed a friend had made some jokes about looting on micro-blogging service Twitter.

"Loads of people attacked him online and then the police found him and they shut down his BBM and Twitter - but he was just joking, he didn't know how serious it would be!" the participant said.

Jonathan Armstrong, legal expert for knowthenet.org.uk, said there seems to be a sense that different rules apply when, in fact, most laws apply on the internet and there are also a range of new laws that specifically address online activities.

"When you combine that with the fact that virtually all online activity leaves an electronic footprint for prosecutors to follow, you end up with a situation where large swathes of the population are at risk," he said.

In a bid to educate web users, Knowthenet has launched a free online test that lets web users test their own knowledge of illegal online activities and also offers advice on ensuring they stay on the right side of the law.

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