Legal and Regulatory Environment for Electronic Information
(fourth edition - 2001)
by Charles Oppenheim
by David Brake
14, 2001 | The field of electronic publishing, whether
on CD-ROMs, proprietary online databases or the broader Internet,
is certainly full of legal uncertainties and dangers. This book,
mainly aimed at ISPs and publishers in the UK and Europe, is designed
to point out some of the possible pitfalls. It is by necessity less
able to tell you how to guarantee to avoid them because laws covering
the Internet tend to be either old ones where figuring out the application
of conventional law to cyberspace is difficult or new laws which
have not yet been extensively tested.
Oppenheim frequently has to suggest after giving what guidance
he can that you should consult a good lawyer though even they may
find themselves at a loss. He is an academic, not a lawyer, himself
but this is, if anything, an advantage - as a member of his audience
at a talk said, this means he gives clear answers to questions.
Well - at least his answers are as clear as they can be given the
state of the law in this field.
Unfortunately, like a lawyer, he tends towards caution in his advice.
For example, he seems to suggest that it might be dangerous to put
a title on a link - even if the title is the website's own name,
and in general he suggests you seek permission to link to a site
in a broad range of cases where the link-ee might object. This might
be the legally prudent course, but my (layman's) guess is that in
all but the most extreme cases if you don't notify the target site
even if they discover your link it wouldn't occur to them that they
have the right to object and if they did, removing or changing the
link would be sufficient.
He gives brief summaries of the cases relevant to each subject
area and provides chunks of the text of the relevant laws to illustrate
his points, with some commentary. He also occasionally interjects
his own views about the wisdom of a particular piece of legislation
(he favours an international court of cyberspace, for example) and,
perhaps most usefully, he often provides sample contracts for publishers
to use, though of course it would not be wise to simply recycle
them without ensuring that they are tailored to your own needs.
While it covers a lot of ground, this book does not concern itself
equally with all of the legal issues you could run across online.
The author's main focus is on online databases and libraries (as
the title suggests), and while there is plenty of information here
on the licensing of text, images and music files he only spares
a paragraph for moving picture licensing - increasingly important
in this broadband age - which he merely describes as having a "complex
chain of rights". Spamming, a hot legal issue online if ever there
was one, he devotes just five pages to, but that is because it only
relates to "electronic information" in a peripheral way.
In an field that changes this quickly, a 'static' book seems lacking.
This one has only just come out and is already out of date - it
doesn't include recent loosening of EU law on spamming for
example. It cries out for some kind of online component, but there
are no legal websites listed in the bibliography and only six books,
which is a shame since there are several useful resources, some
of which I have listed below. Nonetheless, if you are looking for
a reasonably digestible guide to some of the online legal snares
that may await you, particularly if you trade with the EU, this
text may be a useful addition to your bookshelf.
law of the net-related sites
Law and Policy Overview – The Internet, The Information Society
& Electronic Commerce
updated legal news and guides from a UK-based law firm
pro bono legal awareness site from another UK-based law firm
Law Center (largely American) includes daily updated news
1,800 pages on patent, copyright, trademark, and Internet legal
issues" collected by an American lawyer.
Brake is a UK-based Internet consultant and journalist – he can
be contacted at david.brake