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JILT 2001 (2) - Charles Oppenheim 1


Mobilizing the Information Society

by Robin Mansell and
W.Edward Steinmuller

Oxford University Press, 2000,
ISBN 0 19 829556 1

Reviewed by:
Professor Charles Oppenheim
Dept of Information Science
Loughborough University

1. Introduction

The sub-title of this heavyweight tome, some 500 pages long, summarises its contents well: 'Strategies for Growth and Opportunity'. The book is clearly aimed at those involved in strategic planning, government policy - and at academics and students who study these topics. The book comprises 10 chapters, and has a heavy research European bias. It examines the social, market and regulatory developments in the Information Society. It is research-based and offers insights into the social, economic and political forces affecting the information society. Both of the authors are well known academics at the Science Policy Research Unit in the University of Sussex.

2. Chapter 7 - Electronic Intellectual Property and Creative Knowledge Production

One chapter of the ten is directly relevant to readers of JILT - Chapter 7, entitled 'Electronic Intellectual Property and Creative Knowledge Production'. That is not to say legal issues do not get discussed elsewhere, but where they do, it is only in passing.

The chapter provides a novel approach to IP in the digital arena, but this is marred by some mistakes.

2.1 Errors in Chapter 7

For example, the statement that the 'difficulties of maintaining copyright protection in digital information are similar to those that were encountered for print information with the advent of new technology', is clearly wrong; digital information is inherently far more difficult to control than, say, the photocopying of print materials is. The claim that 'copyright in many countries has traditionally required a registration', is also dubious.The statement 'in general the courts have been willing to enforce copyrights where a relatively low level of originality skill and effort has been involved' may be true of the UK, but is not true of many countries.

It also contradicts a later statement that the requirement that databases only enjoy copyright when they constitute the author's own intellectual creation 'is very broad protection indeed'. The claim that it is possible to infringe the copyright of a detective story by copying the idea behind the plot is not true, as copyright does not protect ideas, but only the expression of them. It is not true that rebroadcast or copying of broadcasts is always infringement, as claimed. Such copying may be permitted, for example, under licence, or under fair dealing.

This may appear to be nit-picking, but if someone writes apparently authoritative statements, they should hedge them with the necessary caveats.

On page 308, copyright is confused with Moral Rights (which is a topic that gets far less coverage that it should). The lifetime of copyright is incorrectly put at 50 years after the death of the author. Claims for infringement need not be based on commercial damage as is claimed. Contrary to what is claimed, innocent creation IS a defence against an infringement action. The term sui generis is incorrectly defined. On page 311, it is incorrect to claim that the Berne Convention does not state a minimum level of protection that must be provided for by a signatory. The CLA does not, as is claimed 'have the responsibility of licensing digital products for use in the higher education system'. It only covers Higher Education in the UK, and furthermore, it provides licences for textual products only.

There are also unsupported assertions, for example 'the frequency of small-scale and individual infringements may collectively amount to a far larger source of revenue loss to copyright owners than organized pirating' is dubious, as in the vast majority of cases individual copying leads to no loss of income for the copyright owner as the person copying would not have paid to obtain a bona fide copy. The claim that the new database right will lead to increased costs for 'enforcing and establishing contracts' is also unuspported by any evidence, and seems prima facie to be improbable.

The authors claim that it is 'paradoxical' that owners of copyright may not wish to enforce their rights. I fail to see any paradox here. Just because one is entitled to something in law does not mean there is any paradox is not bothering to exercise that entitlement. Inevitably, too, the Chapter is already out of date, particularly on the EU Directive on Copyright.

3. Summary

It is a great pity there are so many factual errors, many of them caused by mixing UK law with the rest of the world's laws, because the authors have some interesting and provocative things to say about the future role of RROs and the balance between the rights holders and users that deserve a wide airing.

I cannot recommend the book for purchase, but for those who have an interest in the role of copyright in the information society, and are prepared to overlook the factual errors, this would certainly be worth borrowing by Inter Library Loan.

This Book Review was published on 2 July 2001.

Citation: Oppenheim C, 'Mobilizing the Information Society, by Robin Mansell and W. Edward Steinmuller', Book Review, 2001 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) <>.New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

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