Charlie Lyons-Rothbart belatedly takes a look at a new edition of seminal tech law book.
This traditionally bound and chunky book was published in 2020, so its review is most definitely overdue. (We can, of course, blame the pandemic for this.)
The 5th edition of Internet Law and Regulation comes some 13 years after its predecessor. For those of us old enough to remember that far back, this means that the fourth edition was published in 2007, just before the global financial crisis of 2008. For some internet-related context, Twitter was founded in 2006, WhatsApp made its debut in 2009, and Instagram wasn't yet around to provide us with the scrolling distraction we all know and love today (Instagram launched in 2010).
With this context in mind, this 5th edition of Internet Law and Regulation was very much needed, with the previous edition being published at the dawning of this current age of the internet. Just take a minute to think about how the internet, as well as how you engage with the world online, has changed since then.
How the law applies to the internet has, therefore, had to change a lot too. In January 2007, as Graham Smith notes, there were 12 statutes on our books that mentioned the "internet". By 2020, this had risen to over 80.
Internet Law and Regulation is a text for legal practitioners rather than academics and it focuses mostly on the position in the UK (although there is of course plenty of talk of EU legislation and relevant international conventions). In the post-Brexit UK in which we find ourselves today, this is fine, and this text is a good reference for UK lawyers. It starts by talking about what is the internet, noting that the evolution of the internet as we know it today demonstrates that the lack of any legal definition of "the internet" in any statutes was a wise move by legislators.
As we know, "the internet" is made up of many layers and what a user of the internet perceives to be "the internet" may differ from other users, or even from what, in fact, "the internet" is: network transmission protocols, content formatting and hyperlinking standards, OTT services (social media, voice, messaging etc.). The list goes on. Given that each 'layer' of "the internet" requires laws or regulations to govern the current and potential - and often relatively fast evolving - use cases, it is arguably not possible to capture in one text all the different legal rules that apply but this book takes a good stab at it.
That said, there are some gaps. For example, I was surprised not to be able to find any mention of the Network and Information System Regulations (or the EU directive it implements), and there is little mention of emerging technologies such as blockchain or artificial intelligence (except that blockchain is mentioned in the context of tax initiatives and online payments using cryptocurrencies). Despite this, this text does do a good job of trying to paint the legal and regulatory landscape of the internet with a good and broad brush.
While there is very much a UK focus to this book, there are some chapters which make some interesting cross-border comparisons. I particularly enjoyed the section on spidering and scraping and the approaches taken by the EU and Canada.
It is a great text for anyone practising law who is trying to navigate the variety of legal issues that can arise where the internet is involved. Concepts such as intellectual property infringement, tort, consumer contracts, broadcast rules, competition law, and what would constitute a prohibited or regulated activity online, are all discussed in appropriate detail.
Of course, as with anything as fast evolving as the internet, books which set out in black and white the rules that apply are subject to becoming out of date quickly. While this is not true of the full text, there are areas of this edition where the world has already moved on: for example, in relation to the GDPR post-Brexit (although the authors do predict what has happened when finally Brexit came about).
But it wouldn't be fair to give a negative review simply because Internet Law and Regulation wasn't written by people who are able to predict the future, especially when this review lags behind publication. What is fair to say is that this 5th edition provides a wealth of knowledge for lawyers navigating legal issues with an online angle, including for technology law specialists.
Charlie Lyons-Rothbart is a Senior Associate in Taylor Vinters LLP's commercial technology practice and has been working with clients developing and implementing AI technologies for over 5 years.
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