Internet Law and Regulation
by Graham J Smith
Sweet and Maxwell, 2002
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
There are many books on Internet law on the market - but few, if any, could compete with Graham Smith's 'Internet Law and Regulation' which, in terms of comprehensiveness of subject-matter covered and detail, is a hard act to follow. Indeed, it justifies taking the risk of praising too much and raising too high expectations, by saying that this book reads and feels like the Bible on Internet law and is very well worth the high price tag of ?145. This, of course, holds true only for someone who wants or needs a bible on Internet law, and there may be room for speculating that, with the Internet and Internet law growing out of its infancy, the possibility of any lawyer being (or aspiring to become) an expert in Internet law as a whole, rather than an expert, let's say, on issues of domain names or digital cash, is becoming increasingly slim.
Interestingly, in the Preface to the First Edition in 1996, Smith started off by addressing the concern that the content of a book dedicated to Internet law may be insubstantial, as well as the question whether the Internet is at all subject to any laws. Five years later, not only do these concerns, with the benefit of hindsight, seem rather funny and so last-century, but in fact they have been replaced by the reverse concern, namely of how to accommodate and do justice to the many recent developments in Internet law. A man 's gotta do what a man's gotta do: Smith makes the book double the length of the previous edition, a proud 700 plus pages. Will he be able to keep up that pace; will there be any need?
2. Comprehensive Coverage
Coming back to the question of what one does with a bible if one does not aspire to priesthood. You read extras for inspiration or illumination or confirmation or verification. Internet Law and Regulations is certainly not a book many are likely to read from cover to cover; it is much more a reference book which should offer something worthwhile to anyone with an interest in e-commerce or Internet related legal issues generally (and which lawyer, particularly commercial lawyer, can afford not be interested these days?).
In its twelve chapters it covers online related issues on copyright, trade marks, defamation, content liability generally, jurisdictional issues, telecommunication and broadcast law, contracts, electronic money, public law such as gaming or sexual offences, taxation and, finally, competition law. And these matters are not covered in an introductory and half-baked manner (as in some other books where individual authors more and more unsuccessfully try to be a jack of all trades) but professionally and generally thoughtfully. This is no doubt at least partially due to the fact that Smith's book has had the input of quite a number of contributors (although fewer in the third edition) including overseas contributors from 15 countries.
3. Legal Developments Beyond the UK
This willingness to acknowledge personal limits and share achievements (not unlike the culture of technical innovation upon which the Internet is based) is reflected in yet another strength of the book: its coverage of legal developments outside the UK. The book's legal comparative element is all pervasive, but particularly dominant in the chapters on domain names and jurisdictional issues. Although, in the Internet context, such legal comparison seems nothing less than necessary (albeit seemingly not for many US authors) most other books would not go much further than the US and possibly a few other European countries. Here, on the other hand, the legal positions in countries such as Israel, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand are also covered.
4. Competing Solutions
The multinational nature of the legal inquiry which legal advisors of local e-commerce businesses are faced with certainly raises interesting questions in how far any legal education which is not strongly comparative is still defensible. This book is sure to provide a helping hand to all those who are asked for advice on, or who intend to research, an Internet-related legal issue and who do not have a good research assistant. The reader is not just informed of the major legislative and judicial developments but also of the arguments for and against competing solutions, an insight into which is certainly not a luxury enjoyable only by academics given that this is what often decides cases in the courts.
5. Secondary Sources
So what is wrong with the book? Not an awful lot. As the book is clearly very well-researched it is at times disappointing that the readers will have to take the author's word for some propositions without being able to look up the sources themselves. Especially with respect to some of the foreign material, more endnotes with references to primary or secondary sources would have been useful. And footnotes rather than endnotes would make reading the book much less disruptive. Also, given that the Internet has sparked so much legal interest and commentary, Internet Law and Regulation seems rather undernourished in terms of reference to secondary sources, which in some ways compromises its role as a reference tool.
In terms of substance there are some views or opinions that not every reader is likely to share, which is unavoidable. One such opinion is that expressed in the chapter on prohibited and regulated activities, where the author refers, as a regulatory solution, to the possibility of treating cyberspace as a separate space independent of national regulators which would not just 'probably be regarded as deeply subversive by many governments' but, as the rest of the chapter, and indeed most of the matters discussed in the book show, is not a realistic option at all. But these are trivial matters which cannot distract from the overall quality of the book and the work would hardly qualify as a bible if it did not give rise to some doubt or good old fashioned arguments as to the deeper meaning of it all.
This is a Book Review published on 22 March 2002.
Citation: Kohl U, 'Internet Law and Regulation, 3rd Edition, by Graham J Smith', Book Review, The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) 2002 (1) <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/02-1/kohl.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2002_1/kohl/>.