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The Liability of Internet Intermediaries The Liability of Internet Intermediaries

Are counterfeit versions of your trade marked handbags being sold on eBay? Has a malicious tweet gone viral on Twitter? Is your recent film being downloaded from a website in the Ukraine? Or do you offer internet services which enable such conduct to take place? If so, you will need this book.

I was introduced to a computerised word processor (a large tin box made by IBM) in about 1980 by my friend the late Professor Ronald Dworkin and I remember a few years later asking him what the World Wide Web was. As I result, I subscribed to Demon Internet to be able to send e-mails to the few people I knew who also subscribed to an ISP. The potential legal implications of this development never occurred to me and, even now, reading this book has shown me, like stout Cortez, silent upon his peak in Darien, an entirely new legal landscape.

The internet has had a profound effect upon the law of some forms of intellectual property (principally copyright and trade marks) and the torts of defamation and invasion of privacy. It has led to special legislation, at both the European and national levels, and to development of the common law. In particular, it has brought out into the light a previously somewhat obscure area of law, of which the author rightly says that the ‘nature and theoretical foundations are poorly understood’, namely that of secondary liability. The primary authors of internet torts are often untraceable or resident in countries not distinguished for the efficacy of their legal remedies or simply not worth powder and shot. It is the ISPs, platforms, and other intermediaries through which they act which are usually visible and substantial. This book therefore contains a detailed examination of the circumstances in which various elements of the internet may incur secondary liability for the torts of others, either in the form of monetary damages or, perhaps more importantly, injunctive relief which requires them to take steps to prevent further wrongdoing. If the analysis laid out by the author sometimes resembles old maps in which unexplored parts were supplied with legends like ‘here be lyons’, that is because the law itself is still in an early stage of development.

Finally, it is impossible to understand the law of internet liability without understanding how the internet works. Here the author supplies a lucid account of its layered architecture and the functions of its different parts. It is these two features: the legal analysis of secondary liability and the technical analysis of the working of the internet, which make this a valuable source for anyone dealing with this new area of law.

Leonard Hoffmann

April 2016

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