an International Bibliography on Information Technology and the Law
This is an IT Review published on 30 June 1998.
Citation: Edwards L, 'ITLaw: an International Bibliography on Information Technology and the Law', IT Review, 1998 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/sw/98_2itla/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_2/edwards/>.
This purports to be a 'specialised bibliographic database on legal informatics and computer law', published on CD-ROM. In other words, it provides brief abstracts of, and references to, but not full text of, a variety of sources relating either to computer technology as applied to law and aligned fields, or to substantive technology-oriented law. The majority of the abstracts are taken from periodical literature, books and monographs, but a small amount of legislation, case law and 'grey literature' has also been included.
One of the strengths of the CD is its multinational and multilingual coverage: material digested was originally printed in a wide range of languages, ranging from the more or less ubiquitous English, German, French, Dutch and Italian to the perhaps less commonly found Hungarian, Slovenian, Bulgar, Czech and Japanese. Whatever the source language of the text in question, however, the abstract is written in English. This free, provisional edition, of the CD-ROM indexes sources dating from 1975 only up to 1995, which means in terms of the growth of computer law it is already grossly out of date; as one example there is no subject classification for 'Internet law' and only 121 references to the Internet in the whole database of some 38,000 documents. However it must be noted that this release is intended only to be a 'taster' for a commercial service to appear shortly, which will be regularly updated, although of course this service will not come cheap.
The data is delivered to the user via the database management system, Folio Bound VIEWS, which conveniently will be already familiar to many legal database users, as it is already used to package inter alia Current Law, Legal Journals Index and the Scots Law Times in their electronic CD-ROM guises. As well as the normal query facilities available in any Folio Bound VIEWS database, the editors have also classified the material in various ways, presumably to allow for more efficient or intuitive searching. Users can search by author; by selecting from an alphabetical list of pre-compiled keywords; and by subject classification.
There are eight main classified subject areas, each broken into multiple sub-topics, mostly relating to legal office automation, information and computer science, document and data retrieval, and other topics which in the Anglo-American world tend to be subsumed under the portmanteau title, 'artificial intelligence and law'. Only one main topic deals with substantive computer law, and this proportionate division appears fairly accurately to reflect the breakdown in content of the database as a whole. (This user found it impossible however using the search tools available to discover exactly how many of the 38,000 documents abstracted fell into each subject area. ) It is also possible to search by the original language of the source, although this would be rather more useful if it could be combined with a subject or author search instead of remaining free-standing.
On the whole I did not find these extra styles of search added much to the ability to search by key word using the usual Folio query facilities; indeed, in some cases they were less useful or due to editorial mishap, actively misleading. (I should probably admit some bias here. My own name when searched for in the author index was (a) mis-spelt and (b) had only one article listed; whereas a Folio search turned up two articles, the latter with the correct spelling.)
The idea of a comprehensive, updated, database of references on every topic in the world of computers and law, derived from sources in a panglossia of languages, and freely searchable by key word or subject, is of course overwhelmingly attractive to any academic, practitioner or student who has tried to stay abreast of developments in this incredibly fast moving and transnational area. Sadly, however, the ITLaw CD, at least in its current incarnation, does not quite measure up to this dream. To a large extent, the database betrays its origins in the long-standing bibliographic hard copy reference work, Informatica e Diritto, (published in hard copy since 1992 as a biannual reference work by Martinus Nijhoff as Information Technology and the Law) which is known mainly in the world of AI and Law and among continental scholars.
Most of the contents, as noted above, do seem to relate more to the rather esoteric world of informatics, and rather less so to the world of computer and Internet law. The material digested has a decidedly academic rather than commercial bias. It is hard to see why the compilers bothered to include any cases and statutes, as the coverage is so patchy that no-one could rely on the sources discovered being a reliable guide to the law of the country in question. (For example, the sole UK statute digested is the Unfair Contracts Terms Act.)
In particular, it is unavoidably apparent to a UK reviewer that the coverage of English language texts is extremely patchy. There is no list of journals abstracted, but it is clear many leading anglophone journals have not been digested, or appear once or twice but not consistently; to name but two, the European Intellectual Property Review and Computers and Law (the journal of the Society for Computers and Law). Non-specialised journals which may contain useful material, such as the Modern Law Review, or in the legal automation field, the New Law Journal, also seem to have been rarely if at all considered.
The main value of the current CD ROM, at least for the English speaking user, probably lies in the access it gives to sources in foreign languages (or in English in foreign published journals and books) which might otherwise be extremely difficult to hunt down. Even then, it is dubious how useful a reference but not full text service will be for the many users who will not have access to large academic libraries, or the time to pursue inter-library loans.
Will ITLaw be worth buying when it is a fully updated commercial service? Perhaps, but on present showing, only if your interests lie in AI and law, unless and until the computer law side is substantially expanded and the coverage of anglophone sources made more consistent. Furthermore, a paying service will have to compete not only with other commercial legal databases which offer bibliographic services, such as the aforementioned Legal Journals Index now comprised in the electronic Current Law service, and the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, but also with the free searches available using the World Wide Web. So much IT law related information is now routinely made available in full text on the Web (JILT's own news update service bears blatant testimony to this) that it is hard to see how much market there may be for a paying service which only provides references. Perhaps the compilers may find it worthwhile to add value to their database by applying some quality control to the articles they digest, or introducing a ratings system?
In principle, however, this is a brave enterprise which if expanded may yet meet the overwhelming market need for a way of curbing the information explosion in sources on law and computers.