Law and the Internet
L Edwards and C Waelde (Editors)
Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2000, 396pp
University of Warwick and
University of Utrecht
It is refreshing to see Edwards and Waelde undertake the difficult task of producing a second edition of their innovative 1997 book. The changes of the intervening years are visible on a cursory examination of its contents - the adoption of the Directive on e-commerce by the European Community, the near-agreement on the Directive on digital copyright, and the bringing into force of the ICANN Process to resolve disputes over the use of trade marks in domain names.
The stated purpose of the book is to describe, comment on and critique the legal developments relating to Internet law and e-commerce. It consists of chapters on Internet basics (Andrew Terrett and Iain Monaghan), online contract issues (Andrew Murray), encryption (Martin Hogg), payment (Saul Miller), privacy (Andrew Charlesworth), the domain name system (William Black), trade marks (Charlotte Waelde), copyright (Hector MacQueen), private international law and IP (Paul Torremans), illegal content and spam (Lilian Edwards), and telecoms regulation (Paul Carlyle).
2. The E-Commerce Debate
All the Chapters are of high quality, and provide an interesting mix of the legal, technical and policy aspects of the Net in general and of e-commerce in particular.
My attention was particularly caught by the discussions of contract and consumer issues in the book. Murray's analysis of online contract issues was found particularly interesting. He puts forward a convincing general argument that existing law is adequate to cope with online contracts, and a less convincing specific argument that the postal rule should apply to e-mail acceptances of offers (so that such acceptances take effect when and where sent rather than when and where received). Although Murray argues his point strongly, this reviewer thought that even those strong arguments could not justify his conclusion that the archaic, and quirkily common-law, postal rule should be extended to e-mail.
3. Privacy Issues and Domain Name Disputes
Charlesworth provides a commercial-versus-individual perspective on privacy that is a refreshing contrast to the more typical one of national vs. international. He compares the US and the EU situations and argues that it is not transatlantic differences but concentrated commercial interests which form the principal barrier to the adoption of effective transnational rules on privacy.
Waelde's essay is interesting for similar reasons, she questions whether ICANN's domain-name dispute resolution process is skewed towards commercial and US interests, a topical question given WIPO's ongoing work in the field, and one which, as Waelde notes, it is difficult to give any definitive answer to as yet.
4. Focus on the Individual
MacQueen continues the emphasis on the individual users of the Internet, asking whether copyright law is heading in the wrong direction in giving too much protection to authors and overlooking the public interest in the wide dissemination of original work. His answer tends to the affirmative, although, like Waelde, he notes that the shifting sands of regulation, in particular the uncertain capabilities both of technological protection measures and of law-enforcement, mean that it is difficult to give a complete answer.
Edwards rounds off this focus on the individual in analysing libel, pornography and spam on the Internet. Her analysis stresses how these forms of unwanted content are holding back e-commerce and how poor a tool national law is to cope with them. She argues that new forms of regulation are needed to deal with these problems.
This need for new regulatory paradigms to protect the individual in the vastness of the global electronic marketplace was the thread which I saw most strongly in this new edition of Law and the Internet.
The book will certainly give food for thought for those in the academic world, as well as for those involved in policy-making and in practice. Edwards and Waelde are to be congratulated for contributing to our understanding of regulation which is, in their words, in 'a sort of constant and frantic Brownian motion'.
This Book Review was published on 2 July 2001.
Citation: Dickie J, 'Law and the Internet, 2nd Edition, L Edwards and C Waelde (Editors)', Book Review, 2001 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/01-2/dickie.html>..New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/jilt/2001_2/dickie/>.