Legal Question in Technology Law in New York

Restricting Access to a Corporate Website

I am responsible for administering a very successful corporate website. I have received intermittent requests from the executive level to restrict access to the website based on the userís country of origin or ISP (i.e. ĎDonít let anyone from Canada view our technical dataí, or ĎDonít let anyone from AOL download catalog ABCí etc.)

I have always ignored these requests, stating that to do so would defeat the purpose of the site, be poor marketing, and/or might subject us to potential litigation. My gut feeling is that the web is a public domain, and that if we try to subjectively discriminate against groups of people, either by location or by access point, we will at some point get sued.

My hand is now being forced on this, and Iíve been instructed to find out if anyone else has done this, and if so what have been the repercussions.

Can we restrict a userís access to our website based on arbitrary criteria?

Thanks for your help!

Asked on 4/22/04, 1:10 pm

4 Answers from Attorneys

Bunji Fromartz Fromartz Law Offices

Restricting Website Access is not a Problem

Many commercial websites have forms of limiting content from ability to pay for access, issuing passwords to customers or blocking certain ISPs (Internet Service Providers). AOL is a frequent target.

The fact that you post items to a website does not mean you have to offer access to any who knock on its door.

You might want to state in your TOS (Terms of Service) that you do not allow access to all persons who attempt access. If you need help reviewing your TOS or other intellectual property aspects of your website do not hesitate to contact this office. : This is a personal observation and not a legal statement of law.

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Answered on 6/11/04, 12:54 am
Anthony Park Anthony S. Park, PLLC

Re: Restricting Access to a Corporate Website

I don't know the answer to your question off the top of my head, and I don't think you'll find many lawyers who can easily answer such a specific question.

My first reaction is that a website maintained by a for-profit corporation is that corporation's property, and dissemintation of its information is at the corporation's discretion. Put another way: would you have the same concerns if the corporation was using targeted mailings, and decided not to mail to Canada or AOL employees? But I would need to know more details before I could offer a competent opinion.

Should you decide to retain an attorney to address this matter, you can email or call my firm for a consultation.

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Answered on 4/22/04, 1:24 pm
John Friedman Law Office of John K. Friedman

Re: Restricting Access to a Corporate Website

This is a developing area but the basic guideline is that the corporate web site is private property. Therefore you can exercise your rights accordingly. To protect itself a prudent company (corp., LLC, LLP, etc.) has in place a valid and enforceable Fair Use Guidelines, Privacy Guidelines, etc. governing access to and use of the company's various web sites/services.

If you have these policies you can review them and amend them as necessary. If you don't have these documents, now is a good time to fix that.

If you'd like to discuss this further please call my office.

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Answered on 4/22/04, 1:25 pm

Re: Restricting Access to a Corporate Website

Technology can restrict access according to the criteria you describe, although a determined individual could circumvent the block.

A private company can use such technology, and in a famous case Yahoo was ordered by the French authorities to block access to its Nazi Memoribilia site from surfers in France, where the sale of such items is illegal.

Using the web does not oblige you to make all content available to all comers.

Judson Jennings

Seton Hall Law School

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Answered on 4/22/04, 2:08 pm

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