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JILT 1998 (2) - Alistair Kelman (3)

Michael F. Flint's

A User's Guide to Copyright (4th Edition)

Butterworths, 1997, £40
450pp, ISBN: 0-406-04608-5

Reviewed by
Alistair Kelman
LSE Computer Security Research Centre

As an exercise I dug out my well thumbed copy of the first edition of this book on copyright (where I found that I had left in an old computer punch card from one of my early programs as a bookmark). The first edition was 226 pages (including the index). The latest edition is double the size at 450 pages. But sadly the increase in size has not led to an increase in quality.

My first edition gave clear and sensible professional guidance through the 1956 Copyright Act. It was the first textbook on this topic to use tables to illustrate the incidents of copyright. The new edition continues this tradition. But unfortunately the complexity of modern copyright law and regulation is such that the tables no longer help comprehension. If they were to continue to be illustrated on paper they would have to become network diagrams of fiendish complexity - the kinds of interdependency diagrams which turn up in presentations on European projects which nobody understands but which the Commission seems to insist are part and parcel of their reviewing process.

Reading through the table on page 59 explaining how the new Term Directive is to be applied - which extends the copyright term in the European Union for most works from the life of the author plus fifty years to the life of the author plus seventy years - I felt that the analysis really called for a flowchart rather than a table. A few moment further thought caused me to conclude that the ideal solution would be a small program, maybe written in Java, which would illustrate the rules for the determination of the copyright term. Ask a few questions and get the answer. Let the book speak back to you.

The main weakness in the new edition is that it fails to be either a comprehensive reference work or a good introductory guide. Although it makes some mention of competition law the European cases its cites no longer represent the modern law - European competition law has moved on since Deutsche Grammophone GmbH and Metro was reported in 1971 - we now have something called the Single Market. Although the book was finished in April of last year it only contained a few scant references to the TRIPS agreement and the Geneva WIPO meetings of December 1996 which move copyright into new areas. Trying to keep the length down has naturally led to a lack of explaining the technology to the reader and putting matters into context. But this does not make it digestible.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss the book. As a first port of call for seeking information on a copyright topic it is very useful. It is not an easy read - but this is mainly because the subject matter is highly complex. It is very weak on European Law, multimedia and electronic publishing - which happen to be the new chapters added in this edition. But as a text to be read alongside Directives and statutes the book continues to be reasonably useful.

I would like to see the next edition of A User's Guide to Copyright abandon print as its main medium and become a multimedia work with interactive tables, hyperlinks and worked examples. Only then could it regain the clarity and utility of the first edition.

This is a Book Review published on 30 June 1998.

Citation: Kelman A, 'Michael F. Flint's, A User's Guide to Copyright (4th Edition)', Book Review, 1998 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

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