Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
2003 Volume 13 Issue 1; March.
Bi-annual LIBRES13N1 REVIEWS\
in this issue:
Paul (2002). Information Law in Practice.
Emily, and Candace Barrington, eds. (2002) The Letter of the Law:
Legal Practice and Literary Production in Medieval England.
Daria (2002). Chekhov and
the Poetics of Memory.
Information Law in Practice offers a broad overview of the legal side of many of the information fields librarians now routinely encounter. From a largely British perspective, the book touches on censorship, communications, and the various ways copyright is relevant to most discussions of information (e.g., online music, electronic journals, software, etc.). Marett clearly knows what he’s writing about and he communicates his thoughts well to the lay person; chapters are subdivided into short, topical sections that do a good job of getting at their subject both through explanation and example. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book without some reservation.
About ten years ago Marett published the precursor to this book, Information Law and Practice (note the slightly different title). This current work - called the second edition - comes after a wide range of changes in information law. Though this version, like the first, is interesting, readable, and useful, it suffers from one overarching flaw: it is too much like the first.
At the end of that first work, Marett included a section that discussed what the future might hold in store. “We have probably reached a point now when we can reasonably forecast, at least in broad outline, the technological developments in the handling of information which will occur in the next few decades.”(1991, p. 264). That might remind readers of the 1899 quote attributed to Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Marett’s 1991 claim that we could in any way forecast the technological developments in the handling of information was made in the nascent stages of email, the internet, cellular technology and global positioning but failed to take any of them into account.
It goes without saying that the way we handle information today (for instance, the way you’re reading this review) was not in any way ‘reasonably forecasted’ ten years ago. Still, that’s the folly of predicting the future and had Marett learned his lesson it would have remained but a minor glitch in an otherwise good book. But he didn’t – that exact sentence appears in this most recent version (p. 203) at a time when pretending that we can make even broad sketches of what the future of information holds for the next decades is preposterous. That flaw (the reliance on the same basic text of the first edition) is the central problem of this book. Though Marett claims in the introduction that he had to “rewrite and rearrange a very substantial part” (p. ix) of the book, it seems that he did too little of either. The rapid expansion of information law these past ten years deserves a fresh take, instead we get a warmed over version of the same stuff.
For instance, the first edition of the book included a section on copyright in socialist countries, specifically the USSR and Czechoslovakia. This edition contains a similar section but without the country subheadings and under the auspices of looking back at what copyright had been. What that means in practice is that the text is just lifted from the first book and given a different title (“Copyright in a Socialist Environment”). That’s too bad because it would have been interesting and valuable for this section to contain a comparison of the law of the antecedents of present day Russia or the Czech Republic with their current law on the subject. But Marett doesn’t do this, so the text just seems like filler.
Another place where this technique gives us short shrift is in Marett’s treatment of American copyright law. In the first edition he does a rather good and complete job on the subject; it was clear then that he had a good handle on American copyright law and how it stood in 1991. Unfortunately, by 2002 things had changed significantly. These changes are mostly left unmentioned and he adds almost nothing to the original section. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act gets two sentences and, almost unbelievably, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act gets nothing at all.
As might have been guessed from the copyright section, for anyone interested in the American view of information law, this book is not appropriate. Though there have been numerous significant federal cases in the past ten years touching on every major issue Marett deals with, again, none are mentioned here. Still, for readers in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth (including what he calls the “Former Commonwealth”) this is a valuable resource. And even for American readers interested in international law, the similarity in both principle and practical application of laws in the information field make it an interesting read.
That is what makes this book more frustrating still – Marett clearly has a grasp for information law and a fine way of explaining it. Why rehash the same stuff? More importantly, why mention the laws of various countries around the world unless he plans on giving them fair treatment? The danger is that people who recognize this as a good resource for law in the Commonwealth will think the same judgment applies to the book as source for the laws of other countries.
As the law of information becomes inevitably international, books like this one are going to be very important, but only if they can describe the law as it increasingly exists across borders. In 1991 (when there was still a Soviet Union and publication was still largely in physical book form) an information law book about the Commonwealth could be confident that it was being comprehensive. But now the world is getting rapidly smaller and the lines that used to exist in the law – both geographically and between subjects – have become increasingly blurred. If there is an edition to this book in another ten years it had better start from the ground up, and make no claims about predicting the future.
Steiner and Barrington have brought together nine essays on the emerging field of law and literature. Their purpose is clear from the title they have given their volume. In the Medieval period, rationality and practicality throve, even in the face of the phenomenon of courtly love. Legal documents have survived in greater number than prose works or poetry from that era. This is a treasure-trove for researchers. The essays illustrate the various ways that writing developed even through the legalistic terminology of a plethora of conflicting courts. More, they show that the actual writing of documents had a profound effect on how legal matters were conducted. Finally, the essays also trace the beginnings of literary efforts.
The Robin Hood ballads, from which we trace the apocryphal story of the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor, are more than just his story. Christine Chism describes them as barometers of the legal situation under King Edward, as well as the popular opinion of leadership. The ballads reflect the corruption of the system of life as it metamorphosed from feudalism to a more modern form of government. They detail the efforts of the king to centralize power while at the same time being dependent upon the local landowners to enforce his laws. To do this, the king had to pay the landowners, either in more land, titles, privileges, or gold. To get the land or the gold, the peasantry had to pay. Thus was born the legend of a dispossessed landowner as the champion of the peasant class.
Drama is apparent in legal proceedings. This has always been true, from the Greeks onward. In the later Middle Ages, drama moved out of the churches and expanded its repertoire. As Emma Lipton explains, drama was also used to maintain social order. She is concerned with the use of language as a monitor of social behavior. Figures familiar audiences appear, such as a summoner and a bishop, as well as allegorical characters, in an effort to illustrate the trouble a poor choice of words can cause. The actual purpose of trials within plays then is to remind the audience of the social rules they live by. The medieval courts allowed different kinds of proof, including rumor and gossip. No account was made for ulterior motives of accusers and witnesses. Accusations and charges could ensue from the "popular voice," or accepted rumors. Punishment could include trial by ordeal. All of these specifics make for exciting drama. Words chosen for their legal interpretation took on linguistic power and thus dramatic effect.
Other topics covered include the forms common to medieval literature such as the fabliau and frequent use of allegory, the writings of the Lollards in their own defense, and even testimony that was performed as speeches. Clearly shown through these essays is the fact that the literature enhances modern understanding of the medieval courts and legalities as well as providing plot material, motivation for characters, and morals for the general population. Each essay is well documented and clearly written, and all the authors clearly know their era and subject matter well. The last chapter is entitled, "The Generation of 1399," and helps to show how politics will take over literature to some extent as the War of the Roses begins and the legitimacy of various kings becomes almost sport for the masses. While this is a good transitionary chapter in terms of literary history, I would have wished for a conclusion from the authors that addressed the forthcoming changes in literary development and styles. This is a good purchase for an academic library that supports a graduate English program.
Elizabeth Malia, MLS
to the review author. This book review was inadvertently omitted from
the first compilation of the March 2003 issue of LIBRES and has been added
on May 14th 2003.
Chekhov's temporal structures" [p.5]; thus overemphasizing the role played by "the present" in Chekhov's work.
The first chapter, entitled Memory and the Journey, is aptly devoted to the discussion of the connection between memory and the journey. To support her contention, Kirjanov selected a number of Chekhov's stories, such as "Holy Night, "A Rolling Stone," "The Steppe," "My Life, "The Student," and "In the Cart", which best illustrate the recollective journey" as "movement in time". The main thrust of Kirjanov's argument is the role played by memory "as a journey of self-discovery", and as a "unifying structural principle in Chekhv's prose" [p.13].
Chapter three, The Memorability of Place, appears to be the central chapter in the book. Here Kirjanov is especially sensitive to the ways in which memory and time are treated in some of Chekhov's pre 1887 stories, such as "He Forgot," "Green Braid," The Crooked Mirror," "Nerves," and "From the Memoirs of an Idealist." Although the concepts of "time" and "memory" are only sketched , the characters' perception of past, present, and future begin to enter a new frame of reference. The interplay between remembering and forgetting on the one hand and time recollection on the other does not produce a semantically significant opposition. In Chekhov's later stories, such as "Kashtanka," "Verochka," "Lights," "The Black Monk," and "The House with a Mezzanine," the two planes of reality, space and time both participate together in the work of memory. As Kirjanov points out, the programmatic unity of objective reality--the present and the subjective associated with the character’s inner life-- is best rendered in "Kashtanka, where "the act of perceiving time and space in a mnemonic state of mind expands the boundaries of the visible world…" [p.65].