A World Wide Web Of Internet Law

Lawyer Doug Isenberg, who has written "The GigaLaw Guide to Internet Law," stands between cases of books in the Georgia State University legal library in Atlanta on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002. AP

As the Internet becomes routine in our lives, lawsuits arising from online disputes are piling up in the courts.

There's legal wrestling over the online swapping of copyright music and movies, tussles over pornography and about personal privacy.

Doug Isenberg tries to make sense of it all in "The GigaLaw Guide to Internet Law." A lawyer, former journalist and operator of the legal news site Gigalaw.com, Isenberg offers a good primer on some of the major issues.

What this $17.95 book doesn't do, though, is analyze where the law is heading and whether existing policy is good or bad.

Isenberg makes few assumptions about his audience. He takes the time to define such things as cease-and-desist letters and digital watermarks.

Each legal topic — copyright, trademark, patent, privacy, speech, contract and employment law — is introduced with a case study with specifics following on applicable laws and practices.

Much of the book reads like a how-to guide, peppered with advice on avoiding disputes.

The section on copyright, for instance, talks about how to claim a copyright and what to consider when setting up Web sites. It discusses what you can safely link to as a Web site owner and your obligations as an Internet service provider to police you network. It also devotes a chapter to a 1998 copyright law - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - aimed specifically at digital works.

Isenberg manages to stay fairly current.

Though he submitted his first draft to the publisher, Random House, in October 2001, he was able to make changes through the summer and incorporate recent cases, including a July Danish court ruling barring an online service from linking to Danish news sites.

Isenberg doesn't delve too deeply, though, into the controversies swirling around the laws and legal concepts he enumerates. That's odd for an author whose articles on GigaLaw.com show he's indeed capable of analysis.

The DMCA, for instance, has often been criticized for giving copyright holders more protections than they have offline. Isenberg mentions this, but gives no indication of where he stands on the issue. In a section on patents, he discusses Amazon.com's much-derided patent on completing e-commerce orders using one mouse click, which forced rival Barnes and Noble to add a second click.

As a reference that covers just about everything a beginner on Internet law ought to know, the 363-page tome should be useful for many businesses and Web site developers.

But, as Isenberg cautions, Internet case law is accumulating so quickly that the author himself expected parts of the book to be dated by the time readers got it. (Already it is: Though he included the July Danish case, he missed an August order rejecting British Telecom's claim that it owns the patent on hyperlinks. Instead, he advised readers to stay tuned.)

Legal scholars will be disappointed, as Isenberg's footnotes consist only of Web links. (An e-book version with clickable links is coming but the author has no current plans to post links online).

The book also leaves out some topics, including jurisdictional matters like taxation, gambling and libel. And while it touches on laws outside the United States, they are discussed only as they affect U.S. businesses and consumers.
  • Sue Chan

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