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Business Law Guide: Sources of Law

Guide to support Business Law courses

Federal Law

Federal law is comprised primarily of the following:

  • The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Court cases and written legal opinions of Federal District Courts, Federal Appeals Courts, and the United States Supreme Court.
  • Laws created by Congress and published as the U.S. Code.
  • Regulations and rules promulgated by agencies of the U.S. government (ex. the Environmental Protection Agency) and published as the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

Decisions of courts, or case law, establish precedent.  Case law is one source of legal authority, along with statutes and regulations. Before you rely on a case, be sure to update case law to be sure another case has not overruled it.

Image Courtesy of the Judicial Learning Center

State Law

Each state has the right to create its own laws and self-govern so long as it does not deny a citizen a right guaranteed by Federal law. As an example of state law, Indiana law is comprised primarily of the following. Most states will have similar items in their respective bodies of law. 

  • The Indiana Constitution
  • Court cases and written legal opinions of County Courts, the Indiana Court of Appeals, and the Indiana Supreme Court. Note, that county court cases are rarely published. Only some opinions at the Court of Appeals level are published. Supreme Court cases are all published. A case must be published to be precedent that is binding law for other citizens (as opposed to just binding the parties of the suit itself)
  • Laws created by the Indiana legislature and published as the Indiana Code.
  • Rules promulgated by agencies of the Indiana government (ex. the Bureau of Motor Vehicles) and published as the Indiana Administrative Code


Specialized Laws to Consider in Business

The Uniform Commercial Code

The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a model set of laws governing all commercial and business transactions in the United States. It is not a federal law but rather is uniformly adopted by each state with the goal of creating certainty in business relationships and commerce. In the Indiana Code the UCC is contained in Title 26. 

The Internal Revenue Code

The Constitution gave Congress the power to tax and they enacted this power by adopting Federal tax laws. The Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) can be found in Title 26 of the U.S. Code.

Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property (IP) law covers property rights of intangible creations of the human intellect. The best-known types of IP are patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. They apply to things such as inventions, songs, movies, books, art and advertising and can be governed by both U.S. and International laws. 

International Trade Law

This branch of law governs what the rules of trade are between parties from different countries. It is comprised of customs, treaties, and the laws of multiple nations. For instance, you might consult the policies of the World Trade Organization or treaties such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).