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Legal issues of WWW & Electronic Publishing

Book Reviews

The following two books were reviewed by Andrew Charlesworth, Lecturer in IT law and Director, Information Law and Technology Unit, University of Hull Law School. The reviews were conducted for the CTI Centre for Law's Law Technology Journal (1995).

Cyberspace and the Law: Your Rights and Duties in the On-line World

Edward A. Cavazos & Gavino Morin

The MIT Press (1994), 17.95, 215pp, ISBN 0-262-53123-2

This book, aimed primarily at a non-legally trained American audience, attempts to provide a much needed guide to the legal problems and pitfalls which await the unwary who provide and use on-line services ranging from electronic mail through to bulletin boards. As such, it does not provide a great deal of analysis of the legal issues, preferring instead to concentrate upon the practical implications of breaches of various aspects of the law. While this lack of analysis is disappointing to the more enquiring reader, it does accord with the authors' stated aim of providing a concise guide to the law in this area.

After defining its terms of reference, notably the term "cyberspace" (with the usual obligatory nod towards William Gibson), the book turns to the legal issues, beginning with that of privacy. This is an issue that has long exercised American writers rather more than it does their UK counterparts. In the UK, the right to privacy, even defined in the broadest of terms, is a very nebulous concept, and the degree of protection in the US, hedged around though it may be by numerous exceptions, makes impressive comparative reading. This chapter also touches upon the topical issues of cryptography and the Clipper Chip debate, and while for the purpose of this book, the coverage of these topics is probably adequate, it would have been interesting and informative to have more analysis of US government action on these fronts, as the implications of US government moves to control encryption have important international implications. Indeed, the speed of developments in the area of privacy is such that the events described in this book~are already dated, with the struggle over the right to privacy between state and individual having already moved to other battlefields.

The business transactions chapter provides a brief explanation of the law of contract and then applies this model to 'cyberspace'. This chapter specifically excludes Electronic Data Interchange contracts, and in doing so avoids discussing some of the more interesting and contentious legal developments which are arising in that area. Indeed, the chapter is fairly parochial in nature, showing no significant interest in transborder transactions. This is an aspect of 'cyberspace' which, with the increasing use of credit cards and the potential for 'digicash' (particularly with relation to transactions via the World Wide Web), must surely be a growth area. The main areas tackled are the issue of the postbox rule in contract, the problem of validating contracts which are in dispute, and the difficulties of defining 'in writing' and 'signature' in electronic transactions. Overall, this chapter suffers from the problem which afflicts other more legally oriented texts in this area which is that it spends most of its time explaining the law of contract, and relatively little time on the specific issues relating to 'cyberspace.' Its underlying theme, particularly with regard to the section on credit cards appears to be simply 'let's be careful out there', a laudable enough sentiment, but one which does not reflect any great, or indeed novel, analysis.

The intellectual property chapter, which refers almost exclusively to copyright, takes an equally 'nuts and bolts' approach to the law. This results in a fair summary of the law, but fails to given more than a passing mention to the fact that the application of intellectual property law in 'cyberspace' might in fact be a highly contentious issue, whether one is dealing with computer program copyright or copyright in Playboy pictures. Given the suggestions for changes to IPR put forward in late 1994 by the US Information Policy Committee of the Information Infrastructure Task Force's Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights, and the reactions to those sugs2estions from business and academic commentators, it seems that this will remain a controversial area for some time to come. The issue of how what was essentially a printers monopoly in the 17th century has evolved into something that threatens the usefulness of cyberspace as an information source is perhaps a question that too few people have taken the time to consider.

However the final three chapters, dealing with free speech, adult materials and cybercrime respectively, provide rather more insight into their respective topics. This may well be because 'cyberspace' usage has so far tested the boundaries of the law in these areas rather more rigorously, and thus the authors are able to consider real-life examples instead of hypotheticals with regard to them. It may also be that the interests of the authors' are related more to such issues, rather than to those of contract and intellectual property, which would thus explain the workman like approach taken to the latter.

The appendices, which account for over one third of the book, contain primarily US statutory material, including some extremely useful lists of the state statutes concerning child pornography and computer crime.

In conclusion, it would be fair to say that this book does represent a welcome venture into the area we might call 'cyberlaw'. While it has been written for the layman, the law appears both concise and accurate, and it is an ideal introductory text for any examination of the interaction between the American legal system and the 'cyberspace' explorer. It is true that it does little more than state the relevant law, and offers no real challenge to conventional wisdom with regard to developments, potential or actual, in that law, but it does provide the reader with the necessary background material to explore and evaluate those developments. All in all, it is eminently accessible, being tightly written and thus easy to read and comprehend, and as such it would seem to be a useful and informative comparative work for UK law students interested in the area of IT and computer law.

Publishing and Multimedia Law

Michael Henry Butterworths

(1994),75.00,820pp, ISBN O 406 03768 X

This book is primarily aimed at the practitioner and publishing professionals markets, as may be deduced from its hefty asking price. It contains both a general guide to the law in the related areas of publishing and multimedia development, and a number of precedent documents. These may be used to construct user-specific documents for transactions such as assignment of copyright and permission for photograph use. This is however, subject to the author's caveat that correctly drafting and amending documents in this area may be a complex task and may require professional help. In order to make these documents more readily available, they are also supplied on PC disk. There is no indication as to whether similar provision for other computer systems, notably -Macintosh, is readily available.

The main text covers a wide array of topics divided into twenty sections. Of these the first eight deal with various aspects of intellectual property rights, being primarily concerned with copyright and other associated rights, such as moral rights. Section 9 deals with potential areas of concern with regard to liability for content of publications, covering such topics as defamation, obscenity, blasphemy, and provisions with regard to sex discrimination and advertising standards. Section 10 considers further issues including contempt, reporting restrictions, and secrecy. It does so mainly with regard to the press, although the author is careful to note that a number of the issues may equally concern multimedia producers. Section 11 reverts to a discussion of exploitation of intellectual property rights. Section 12 proceeds to discuss distribution agreements, then in Section 13 the author goes back to intellectual property again to consider the issues of infringement and enforcement. Sections 14 and 15 consider what may happen to rights in the event of termination of contracts and insolvency respectively. Section 16 considers the potential effect of competition law, while section 17 examines the role of the EU and Council of Europe with regard to the regulating of the publishing and multimedia sectors. Section 18 examines the implications of data protection laws and practice. Sections 19 and 20 specifically examines the issues surrounding current and future use of multimedia, again with a heavy emphasis upon intellectual property rights.

While the choice of material cannot be faulted, its arrangement does perhaps seem unusual. There may well be clear arguments for separating the multimedia sections from the rest, but it is hard to identify the reasoning for the somewhat disjointed nature of the sections concerned with intellectual property rights. It would surely be simpler for the reader to have those sections gathered together, rather than distributed throughout the book, particularly when at times they are separated by subjects which have no intellectual property content. There seems to be no particular logic behind that distribution, and it would be interesting to know why the author felt that it was necessary.

With that presentational caveat aside, however, the book is well written, with the subject matter of each topic being both clearly and concisely presented. As such, it is hard to fault it as a primary reference text in this area.

With regard to the supplied disk, as already noted, this contains all but one of the precedent documents.(l6) The disk does not contain simple editable documents, but software programs which allow for the creation of such documents or which automatically load them into the Windows clipboard. The reason for this approach appears to be an attempt to solve the problem of the multiplicity of word processors currently available to the PC market.

The DOS installation allows for the creation of the precedent documents in ASCII, RTF, WordPerfect 5.1 and WordStar formats. Thus WordPerfect and WordStar users may select their own format, while other word processor users, such as Microsoft Word users (of which I am one), may use the translation software supplied with their package to access the document.

The Windows installation makes use of the Clipboard feature to enable users to paste documents into the word processor of their choice.

The instructions for loading and using the software are contained on a separate sheet, and are clear and compreh=ensive. The software may be loaded in either the DOS or Windows environments, and both installations appear to be swift and bug-free.(The test system used was a Pentium P90 with 32MB RAM) When installed, the software is both well designed and easy to use.

All in all, the software is well thought out and executed package which adopts a sensible approach to the supply of ready-to-adapt documentation for the PC market, and the author and publishers are to be commended for using it.

Together, the book and disk make a useful package for both the practitioner and multimedia professional. While the author is at pains to make clear that it should not be used to replace specialist legal advice, it is an excellent guide to some of the pitfalls which await the unwary in the areas of publishing and multimedia. Some measure of its use and usability may perhaps be gauged from the fact that it is one of the books recommended in the Copyright Guidelines for the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme handbook.(Published by the TLTP in Autumn 1994). It will also certainly go a long way towards helping to answer the many questions which are now being raised by individuals both in academia and business concerning the legal issues surrounding the creation and use of World Wide Web servers and homepages. With regard to its use in teaching, while its price obviously precludes it from widespread student purchase, it would certainly be a useful addition to the reference section of University law libraries.

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