Book Review: Gringras: The Laws of the Internet

May 26, 2016

The Laws of the Internet is a comprehensive practitioner’s text which will undoubtedly be a useful reference point for any lawyer operating in the commercial sphere.

The subject-matter of the text is wide-ranging: it is split into Contract, Tort, Intellectual Property, Crime, Data Protection, Taxation, Competition and Regulation of Networks, Services and Consumer Contracts. The length of the book is inevitably not sufficient to cover every subject in the level of detail that would be required of a specialist practitioner reference text. However, each chapter provides a useful and reasonably detailed overview of the relevance of each area of law to the Internet. As with previous editions, practical examples are offered throughout, enabling practitioners to use the book as a convenient first port of call.

Considering the vast array of topics to cover, the tone of writing is extremely accessible with technical knowledge never assumed and simplified terms used over buzzwords or jargon where possible.

In this new edition, Paul Lambert has also included useful discussion of the new distance selling regime and the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation, the “most lobbied piece of EU legislation to date”.

One of the most useful aspects of the text for legal practitioners with a limited technical background might be Chapter 1, the Introduction, which concisely and clearly explains the key technology concepts relevant to the rest of the text.

Chapter 2 covers basic contracting principles and their applicability in the context of the Internet and deals with the more recent cases of Immingham Storage Co Ltd v Clear plc and Pretty Pictures v Quixote Films.

Chapter 3 includes a full analysis of the Defamation Act 2013 and Tamiz v Google Inc and Jameel and Dow Jones & Co, the requirement for serious harm and the single publication rule. A particular area of interest, important to other chapters of the book, is the ability to identify internet users through Norwich Pharmacal orders and other creative legal means.

In Chapter 4 Lambert covers the various developments in Intellectual Property law since the publication of the last edition, including the CJEU’s consideration of trade mark functions, Adwords and Keyword advertising, Infopaq, SAS and Dataco. Particularly useful for practitioners is the detail in procedure for registration, oppositions and enforcement.

Chapter 5 deals with the DPP’s Guidance on Prosecuting Cases Involving Communications Sent via Social Media and recent developments to the law of contempt. It also looks at the novel concepts of anti-terrorism, cyberstalking/harassment and details the courts’ approach so far in reacting to these new concepts.

Chapter 6 covers the recent changes to the EU data protection landscape including Schrems, Vidal-Hall and Google Spain, discusses the General Data Protection Regulation (although the analysis was carried out before the GDPR text was finalised) and deals with Big Data and the Internet of Things.

Chapter 7 includes discussion of the UK’s new diverted profits tax, the new VAT rules for intra-EU supplies of electronic services and an update on the OECD’s Action Plan on base erosion and profit shifting.

Chapter 8 covers the Google-Doubleclick transaction, the European Commission’s investigation of the e-commerce sector and the changes to UK Competition regulation following the CMA’s takeover of the OFT’s functions. A particularly useful discussion is included around how concepts such as market definition, to which geography is an essential component, translate in the context of the Internet.

The final chapter, Chapter 9, contains a discussion of the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, rules regulating the provision of financial products over the internet and a section on net neutrality.

As The Laws of the Internet highlights, there is a constant stream of legal issues arising from the Internet and things have moved on significantly from 1997 when the first edition was published. Some of the concerns referenced in the Foreword to the First Edition may not have fallen away completely. Some practitioners may still have some sympathy with the worry of the 1990s that “the Internet will be a lawless dimension, with lawyers and clients having no idea what to do or how to control the activities of others”. This text counteracts such concerns with a careful explanation that the majority of legal issues raised by use of the Internet can be dealt with through existing legal concepts.

As with all legal texts, but even more so for those attempting to cover developments in an environment as fast-changing as the Internet, the fourth edition was effectively ‘out of date’ as soon as it was published. For example, since publication further developments have occurred in the data protection sphere with the development of the Privacy Shield and new questions being asked over the legality of Model Clauses. However, The Laws of the Internet is the only judicially-acclaimed text on this subject for a reason – it is the most authoritative and comprehensive practitioner’s text available in the area and comes highly recommended as a reference point for all lawyers advising on commercial transactions via the Internet. 

Annabelle Gold-Caution is a Solicitor at Burges Salmon LLP