Book Review: Law and the Information Superhighway. By Henry H. Perritt, Jr.

Somerset, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996. Pp. iii/739. USD 135.00. ISBN 0-471-12624-1.

28 J. Mar. L. & Com. 185 (1997)

Tom W. Bell[*]

Like all lawyers, maritime lawyers increasingly find that the Internet affects how they -- and their clients -- do business. Along with its many benefits, however, the Internet generates a discomforting amount of uncertainty. It gives rise to problems that fit within old legal doctrines poorly, if at all. Courts and legislatures have failed to keep up with the Internet's rapid development, moreover, leaving a large gap between technology and the law. Attorneys have no choice but to follow their clients into this breach. Now, however, they have Perritt's excellent book to guide them.

Perritt's book offers the best single source to date of the law as it relates to the Internet. The text covers everything from basic descriptions of the relevant technology to arcane points of international electronic money transfers. Most other books on Internet law sacrifice detail for accessibility, and tend to wander into discussions of politics and sociology. Perritt, however, has written (and priced!) his text with practicing attorneys firmly in mind. Those who routinely encounter questions about Internet law will thus find it a valuable resource.

Even if a necessary reference on Internet law, however, Perritt's text cannot qualify as a sufficient one. So far, at least, the Internet has developed far too rapidly for any mere book to keep up. Despite having been issued in January 1996, Perritt's text already shows its age -- over seven "Internet years" old, according to the prevailing rule of thumb. The book contains no discussion, for example, of the Communications Decency Act[1] or the litigation it has spawned. [2] Nor does Perritt's text have anything to say about how the Lanham Act's new anti-dilution provisions[3] have affected rights to Internet domain names. [4] The book likewise ignores the Virtual Magistrate project, [5] and various states' recent attempts to regulate the Internet. [6]

Perritt's text appears doomed to stay far behind the cutting edge of Internet law. We can hardly expect more of a document limited to paper and ink. A Web-based supplement, updated as necessary, would serve Perritt's [p. 186] audience much more effectively. As it is, however, his publisher employs the Internet solely to offer potential customers a sample chapter of the book. [7]

This somewhat conservative approach perhaps reflects Perritt's unfortunate reliance on the ill-fitting and outmoded "information superhighway" metaphor. A superhighway changes no more quickly than government construction projects will allow. Once built, it limits traffic to particular, officially-sanctioned routes. Police patrols keep the superhighway tightly regulated. Among other things, they seek out and arrest unlicensed drivers. To put it mildly, the Internet lacks these attributes.

Rather than a superhighway, the Internet more closely resembles an ocean -- an ocean of information. Maritime lawyers in particular should appreciate this metaphor. Like the ocean, the Internet conceals both great beauty and terrible danger. We usually sail (or, appropriately enough, surf) along its surface intent on our particular destinations, unaware of the mysteries that lurk in its depths. While portions of this information ocean fall within the jurisdiction and control of particular States, much of its broad expanse remains wild and free.

Despite its many virtues, Perritt's new book provides only the most recent and detailed chart of the information ocean. To safely navigate the constantly-changing Internet calls for more than a good chart, however. It also requires traits shared by good captains and maritime lawyers alike: a sharp eye, ample experience, and sound judgment.


[*] Assistant Professor, Program in Law and Technology, University of Dayton School of Law;

[1] Communications Decency Act of 1996, Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, § 502, 110 Stat. 56, 133-35 (to be codified at 47 U.S.C. § 223(a) to (h)).

[2] See ACLU v. Reno, 929 F. Supp. 824 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (relevant portions of the Act found to violate the First Amendment).

[3] 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(c) (Lawyers Coop. 1996).

[4] See, e.g., Hasbro, Inc. v. Internet Entertainment Group, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11627 (W.D. Wash. 1996) (finding likelihood that "" dilutes CANDY LAND mark).

[5] See

[6] See, e.g., Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act, 16 O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93.1 (1996) (making it a misdemeanor to use an Internet distribution mechanism misleadingly).

[7] Send your request to and include "Send Perritt" in the subject line. You can also get the book for a 30-day free trial directly from John Wiley & Sons by telephoning (800) 225-5945.

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