What is meant by “Website”? by Dr.Debarati Halder

We are in 2022 and the pandemic has not left us yet. News channels are tirelessly sharing updates on surging cases, further closure orders for schools, virtual hearing of the courts etc. Where are we sharing the information? From where are we getting some information? It is “websites”. There are millions of websites hosted and also managed by different stakeholders who share different information on WorldWideWeb. Strangely, we do not find the definition of the term website in majority of legal documents but when we see from the perspective of cybercrimes, we cannot avoid the role of websites as websites provide a platform for sharing contents which may be offensive.

The term website is connected with the concept of world wide web which was invented in 1989  by British scientist Tim Barnes Lee who worked on Interlinking of webpage and websites as a scientist with European organization for  nuclear research (CERN). Lee’s work led to connect creation of worldwide web to attributing ip address, domain names, .ccreation of hypertext markup language , uniform resource locator (URL) etc. The major reason behind creating the web was to facilitate the demands of information sharing between the government stakeholders including the military, scientists in the universities and other institutes all over the world for the purpose of information sharing, gathering and strengthening national security including cyber security infrastructure and military intelligentsia. However, very soon in the millennium tech companies started appearing to create, host, maintain etc., of websites which were interactive, passive or hybrid types of websites and which could be used for either e-commerce purposes, or for interaction, peer to peer networking and information sharing or for all. At this juncture it became necessary to explain the term “website”. Even though, we do not get to see any uniform definition of the term in specific legal documents, the term has been attempted to be defined by different stakeholders. It may be broadly explained as collection of hyperlinked pages over the web and related contents which may be identified by common domain name and which may get published on world wide web by some web server.

Now we are dependent completely on different kinds of websites and we manage our homes and offices through these websites. Presently we get to see many legal persons, i.e., companies which may create their own websites which may be used mainly for information sharing, e-commerce purposes and interacting with people. There are different technology companies like Meta (earlier known as Facebook), specifically created for sponsoring, creating, maintaining websites and webpages who also collect data of the users/subscribers/.  We have heard a lot about liability of the websites. But websites in general are inanimate. They become legal persons only when they are operated by people who may create websites, connect to web pages, get a domain name for the websites, publish contents and facilitate peer to peer networking and/or share information as a passive website. Liability of the websites therefore depend on their activities that are decided by the creators/administrators/distributors/users of the websites.

Intermediary and Website are not the same: Even though there are several laws and policy guidelines have been made worldwide to consider liabilities of the websites including The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, we have not yet seen the proper definition of website.  Even though S.2w of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008) defines the term intermediary as any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, web-housing service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online auction sites, online market places and cyber cafes”, the same should not be confused with the term ‘website’. An intermediary however can create, maintain a website.

Please note: Please  do not violate the copyright of this writeup. Please site it as Halder Debarati (2022) What is a website? Published in https://internetlegalstudies.com/2022/01/03/what-is-meant-by-website-by-dr-debarati-halder/ on 03-01-2022

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