WikiLeaks, network neutrality, internet service provider liability for copyright infringement...at the moment, the headlines are full of the kinds of cyberspace issues that geeks have been debating for years. So now is a good time to know, or learn, the background. Law and the Internet, edited by Lilian Edwards and Charlotte Waelde, is a good place to start.
The single biggest mistake people make about the internet every time some new event hits the headlines is that they assume nothing like it has ever happened before, and that no-one has ever thought about the issues raised. This is wholly untrue: the pioneers behind the internet had the same debates about openness and confidentiality that today's new-found experts on diplomacy are having over WikiLeaks. This is where law scholars come in.
Lawyers may be the only people who really love change, because it gives them a chance to imagine where the collisions will be between today's law and tomorrow's technology. In that habit of asking 'what if?', lawyers are probably closer to science fiction writers than anyone else.
Lilian Edwards, whose blog, panGloss, explores digital rights issues and cyberlaw, is based at the University of Sheffield (moving to Strathclyde early next year) and serves on the advisory council of the Open Rights Goup. Charlotte Waelde is a professor at the University of Edinburgh (where Edwards also worked for a time) and specialises in exploring the relationship between digital technologies and intellectual property — the area in which some of the most contentious digital rights battles have been fought over the last decade. Both are, therefore, highly experienced at asking those 'what if?' questions. The remainder of this book's authors are largely academic researchers, mostly in law — the exception is the World Trade Organisation's Antony Taubman.
This third edition, the authors explain at the outset, is nearly twice the size of the second edition (published in 2000) and contains substantial amounts of new material — even the chapters that appeared in the earlier editions have been revised and expanded. That's hardly surprising: ten years ago there was no Facebook, YouTube, Flickr or Wikipedia; Google had yet to conquer the word with Adwords, and 'file-sharing' still pretty much meant Napster. So you'll find chapters on electronic contracts, many aspects of intellectual property, jurisdictional challenges, cybercrime, search engines, data retention and privacy.
Taken together, these additions make for a tome large enough to occupy any student of internet law thoroughly during the Christmas holiday.
Law and the Internet, Third Edition Edited by Lilian Edwards and Charlotte Waelde Hart Publishing 714 pages ISBN: 978-1-84113-815-2 £30