Information Technology Law

March 1, 2006

Lawyers whose practice is solely that of information technology law, or whose practice comprises information technology law when it passes over their desk, will probably agree with the comments printed on the back cover of this book, that ‘Information Technology Law changes and develops at a rapid pace as the law seeks to respond and progress alongside technological advances.’ Ironically, it could be argued that lawyers can keep pace with the speed of the changes only by way of the many digital subscription services available, rather than buying books that have a remarkable tendency to go out-of-date between the time before the printers and the time after the book is shipped to the bookstore.

In their press release, the publishers suggest that, although this book is aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, it will also be of interest to practitioners and others whose business relies on modern information technology. Whilst this is a text that students will certainly find to be of great use, I doubt whether significant numbers of non-lawyers will be induced into reading this book. This is a legal text in classic format; as a result, it is far too bulky to persuade a busy business person into taking time off from essential commercial matters to read about the legal nuances discussed with such aplomb by the authors. It is not certain why anybody other than a student would find this book to be of any benefit, although, on balance, it might be of service to some lawyers for researching points of law and policy in preparation for an appellate hearing. In their preface, the authors make it clear that the text is primarily aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, and despite the comments offered in this review, the authors have succeeded in producing a very good text for that particular market. Of relevance to practitioners is some highly pertinent background information that is included in the text, and the discussion of some of the theoretical considerations in relation to various matters, such as the discourse relating to e-mail and acceptance, whether software comprises goods or services or something else, and anonymity on the Internet.

There are some minor irritations, such as the use of Latin tags. Latin may remain in wide use in civil law countries, but judges in England and Wales prefer lawyers, quite rightly, to refrain from using Latin in court. In addition, the problem of keeping such a text up-to-date is illustrated with respect to the discussion on electronic signatures. The book refers to documents that have been superseded, and the reader will be forgiven if he or she assumed that there was no relevant case law on this topic. A signature in electronic format was recognised in England in 1997, and the first five years of the twenty-first century have seen judges reaching decisions relating to electronic signatures across Europe, in Columbia, the United States of America and Singapore. As a result, it is suggested that practitioners should not rely on this text when advising upon such matters.

In summary, the main fault of this text appears to be that some of the discussions, such as offer and acceptance, contract terms and jurisdiction, are so well covered in the standard texts, that it seems superfluous to cover such matters in the depth they have been in this book. Despite this comment, a good reason for buying this book is that it acts as a useful resource, setting out the main arguments and background information on topics that have yet to be subject to detailed scrutiny in the appeal courts. For the practitioner, this is a work of reference. For the student, it is a text that provides a clear signal: information technology law covers a wide range of legal concepts that must be mastered if the scholar is to practice in this area. Beware the sheer range that encompasses information technology law, but relish the intellectual challenges it offers.

Stephen Mason is Director of the Data Protection Research & Policy Group at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Associate Senior Research Fellow at the IALS and General Editor of the e-Signature Journal.

© Stephen Mason, 2006