8 Little Known Laws You've Probably Broken

There are big laws and then there are little laws. These fall into the latter category. (Photo: iQoncept/Shutterstock)

You probably think of yourself as a generally law-abiding citizen. You would never think about robbing a bank or vandalizing a piece of property. But I bet you've probably broken at least one — no, most — of these laws in your lifetime.

What makes it more interesting is that you've probably never heard of these laws before, but they're still on the books. And depending on where you live, you could land in hot water for breaking them. Here are nine laws that you might have broken without even realizing it:

Singing Happy Birthday
While the lyrics to the most popular birthday song are no longer copyrighted, they still aren't in the public domain. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Singing 'Happy Birthday.' We've been singing the "Happy Birthday" song for so long that you don't even think about the person who owns the rights to it. But up until 2015, that was actually the case. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers actually brought lawsuits in a few cases where the song was sung in what was deemed a "public performance," including one now-famous case in which the organization sued the Girl Scouts for singing "Happy Birthday" around the campfire.

Fortunately, in 2015, a landmark ruling declared that Warner/Chappell Music, the organization that claimed to own the copyright, didn't actually own that copyright and could no longer pursue legal action against those who sang it. However, the ruling didn't put the song in the public domain, either. So it's still entirely possible that some long-lost relative of Patty and Mildred Hill, the two sisters credited with writing the lyrics, could emerge and demand restitution.

Permanent markers
Be careful! Your crafting obsession could get you in trouble with the law. (Photo: Lunatictm/Shutterstock)

Carrying a permanent marker. In what dimension could a love of arts-and-crafts could lead to an arrest? Almost every state in the U.S. has anti-graffiti laws on the books that prohibit carrying a permanent marker in a public space, particularly for minors. Most laws specifically target "broad-tipped indelible markers" and "aerosol spray cans" because of their association with graffiti. Banning the ownership of such paraphernalia gives the police and other authorities the power the dig deeper if they suspect an individual carrying a marker might be up to no good. "It gives the city teeth," said Keith Alber, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge regarding the city's ban on the possession of permanent markers. "Now there is a broader basis for arrests." So if you're a fan of bullet journaling, you'd better leave your supplies at home.

Girl wearing American flag shirt
This girl is probably trying to show off her American pride, but instead she's breaking an American statute. (Photo: Kseniia Perminova/Shutterstock)

Showing off your American pride. You probably already know that it's illegal to burn the flag, step on the flag, or in any other way disrespect the flag. Did you also know that it's also a no-no to wear it? According to U.S. Code Title 4 Chapter 1 § 8, "the flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery." The code goes on to say that the flag should never be used "for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever" and that it also shouldn't be used on "such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard." (Better re-think that Fourth of July decor.)

Playing Bingo
Playing Bingo in North Carolina? Better keep it to just one short game. (Photo: jrockdesign/Shutterstock)

Playing a long game of B-I-N-G-O. North Carolina has very strict rules about the game of Bingo. Games can only be conducted by licensed organizations and no alcohol can be served during the event. Those rules make sense, but there's also a stipulation that games "operate no more than twice a week with games being 48 hours apart and no longer than five hours per session." I'm not really sure who would want to play that much Bingo, but if you do wind up playing some marathon games in North Carolina, just be sure to keep an eye on the clock.

Friends walking at night
You may think it's a smart move to walk instead of drive when bar-hopping, but even that could get you arrested if you've had too much to drink. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Walking home from a bar. You know better than to drink and drive but you ca also land in hot water with the law if you decide to walk home. Public intoxication laws vary from state to state. Obviously, you're more likely to run into trouble if you're being loud or weaving your way down the street. But according to this story on Vice, you can get arrested for simply sitting on the curb in an attempt to sober up. The best advice here obviously is to avoid drinking that much in the first place, but if you do overindulge, it's not a bad idea to have a Plan B and call a cab.

Young guy sitting on sidewalk
Be careful where you cop a squat. Sitting on a sidewalk could earn you a hefty fine. (Photo: mimagephotography/Shutterstock)

Sitting on the sidewalk. Speaking of sitting on the curb, you might get arrested for that, even if you haven't been drinking. In an effort to curb loitering (which is really an effort to criminalize homelessness,) the majority of American cities have statutes on record that make it illegal to sit or lie down in public. Keep walking or find a park bench if you really need to rest.

Girl on Internet
Just because a WiFi network doesn't have a password, doesn't mean it's fair game. (Photo: A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock)

Connecting to WiFi networks without permission. Sure, you know it's against the rules to hack into your neighbor's WiFi, but an Internet cafe should be fair game, right? Not necessarily. In 2007, a man was fined and given 40 hours of community service for sitting in his car on his lunch break and using the WiFi network of a nearby coffee shop. Even though there was no password required for him to log in, he was breaking the law by not entering the shop to use the WiFi — which was the equivalent of using the network without the owner's permission.

Terms of service laptop
Think twice before creating that phony account online. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Not using your real name online. Using a pseudonym may seem like a good way to protect your identity online, but depending upon which sites you use it for, you may be breaking the law with your phony name. You know all that fine print you see when you create a new account on social media or a business site such as eBay? There is probably a clause in there in which you agree not to provide any false information. When you agree to those terms and then use a fake name, you are at best breaking your agreement with the site and at worst breaking the law.