Eleven years of Internet Law with Graham Smith

We do not generally cover books in the Newsletter but occasionally there are exceptions – and Internet Law and Regulation by Graham Smith and other lawyers at Bird & Bird, now published in its fourth edition, is an exception. Graham has been writing and editing editions of this book for 11 years and is one of the leading internet lawyers in the UK.

The first edition, in 1996, was 150 pages and Graham had to explain in the preface why such a book was necessary. The latest edition is 1,400 pages and he does not need to provide any such explanation. The book addresses key areas of contention such as copyright, trade marks and domain names, cross-border liability, internet payments, online contracts, advertising, defamation and data protection in an international context. Newer emerging areas are also covered including encryption, obscenity, freedom of speech, tax and competition law.

Here is what Graham says about the book.

The style of the book is narrative. We explain the taxonomy of the internet in the first chapter – not so much internet technology, but more the variety of internet actors and their functions. We then build on that skeleton through the discussion of the various legal topics covered in the book. The underlying taxonomy, incidentally, has changed little through the editions. The evolution of the book has been a process of adding more flesh to the skeleton rather than redesigning the frame.

We attempt to cover every internet-related topic that is likely to come up in practice. We illustrate important themes with examples from cases and legislation in numerous countries. Even where we do not provide clear cut answers, we hope that the reader will find something that stimulates thought on the question.

While the book is primarily an English law textbook, it is increasingly also a comparative law resource. In the fourth edition, most of the case citations are non-English cases. The book is intended to be of use to private practice lawyers and in-house counsel alike, including those outside the UK who practise in the field or work for an online business.

What are the big issues at the moment? The popularity of peer to peer filesharing and the subsequent emergence of social networking content platforms such as MySpace and YouTube has reignited the debate over the extent to which online intermediaries should police, and be liable for, the activities of their users. The main spark point is, as ever, copyright infringement. The original conflict between internet service providers and rights owners seemed to have been settled with the introduction at the turn of the millennium of liability safe harbours for conduits, caches and hosts. Now that settlement looks increasingly fragile.

The whole area of cross-border liability is as uncertain as ever, with little consensus over the extent to which internet activity located abroad must be targeted at a country before incurring exposure to its laws and the jurisdiction of its courts.

Internet activity has, over the years, evolved through text, images, music and now to video – each type of content more valuable than its predecessor. Video can be seen as the last battleground, over ways of addressing infringing activity and in the debate about whether content should be subject only to general laws or regulated as if it were broadcast. The effects of the Internet having stormed the video bastion will certainly be felt in 2008 and beyond.

Despite all these new developments, I do not think that governments should be rushing in with a new law for each new situation and unless and until the existing law is found wanting there should be a presumption against further legislation. As to the form of any legislation that may be required, let there be a presumption against regulation of a discretionary nature, in favour of known, certain laws capable of general application.

Internet Law and Regulation, 4th edition, by Graham Smith, is published by Sweet & Maxwell at £195 (order from www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk/internetlaw or 0845 600 9355).

There is an updating site at www.internetlawbook.com and the book will also soon be searchable online when it is made available in Google Book Search.