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“Law and Internet Cultures,” Kathy Bowrey

Matthew Rimmer
17 November 2005

Law and internet cultures

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“Law and Internet Cultures”
by Kathy Bowrey
Cambridge | July 2005 | ISBN 0521600480

Recommended by Matthew Rimmer: What role does Australia play in debates over the regulation and governance of the internet? Is it a hub? A node in the information grid? Or is it a cul-de-sac? Are we mere road-kill, bush junk, on the information autobahn?

Arguably, Australia has played an important role in how we think about cyberspace. Our courts have handed down landmark decisions on internet jurisdiction, and peer to peer networks. Australia has world-class anti-spamming laws. We are also the unwitting recipients of US law and culture, having recently acceded to the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement 2004.

Australia has also helped define how we imagine cyberspace. The dystopian thriller The Matrix was shot in Sydney – with the Australian actor Hugo Weaving putting in a chilling performance as Agent Smith, the relentless hunter of the hacker Neo. Australia has also produced some of the finest philosophers of the internet. Think, for instance, of Margaret Wertheim’s The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace.

Law and Internet Cultures is a highly original and creative perspective on cyberspace law, with a distinctive Australian vision. In it, Dr. Kathy Bowrey examines the intersections between law, technology, and culture. She considers the politics and governance of the internet (much discussed in the run up to WSIS) and explores the crash in the tech market, the rampant monopoly of Microsoft, the trademarking of Linux, the fetish of iPods, and the privateers of the information age, peer to peer networks. She weaves together legal developments, a critique of the hyperbole of the dot.com boom, and stories and narratives from the information age.

Law and Internet Cultures provides an important antidote to the many anodyne, generic texts on information technology law. It is a feisty, sceptical and independently-minded text, full of passion and spirit, and a concise, modular piece of work. But it is a selective critical analysis and does not profess to be a comprehensive overview of case law, legislation, and treaties.

My criticisms? If anything, it is sometimes a theoretically challenging book to read. Occasionally the meaning of the stories told in the book remains somewhat opaque; the theoretical concepts are too abstracted from the phenomena that they seek to explain.

The ongoing discussion over the regulation of the internet tends to be dominated by highly visible US pundits, personalities, and commentators. There is a need for new voices to be heard in this ongoing conversation, which bring different cultural perspectives and unique insights. The book Law and Internet Cultures offers a fresh Antipodean view of the debates over the governance of the internet, and the control of intellectual property.

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About the author: Dr. Kathy Bowrey is a legal scholar, with a background in art, history, and technology. She is an associate professor at the School of Law at the University of New South Wales, a director of the Communications Law Centre and a Research Associate of the Baker & McKenzie Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre.

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