Something to read? Three new titles

Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing: The Philosophy of Law Meets the Philosophy of Technology. When you see a title like this, says this Kat, you just know that the book that it describes is unlikely to have been put together by a team of hard-nosed fee-earners at big City practices.  Indeed, this is the case.  This collection of well-articulated thoughts has been compiled and edited by Mireille Hildebrandt, a senior researcher at the Centre for Law, Science, Technology and Society Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the holder of full and associate chairs across the border in the neighbouring Netherlands, aided and abetted by a fellow Belgian scholar, Antoinette Rouvroy, who is a research associate of the National Fund for Scientific Research and a senior researcher at CRID -- the Information Technology and Law Research Centre at the University of Namur.

The scope and content of the book are fairly described in its web-blurb:
"Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing interrogates the legal implications of the notion and experience of human agency implied by the emerging paradigm of autonomic computing, and the socio-technical infrastructures it supports. The development of autonomic computing and ambient intelligence – self-governing systems – challenge traditional philosophical conceptions of human self-constitution and agency, with significant consequences for the theory and practice of constitutional self-government. Ideas of identity, subjectivity, agency, personhood, intentionality [a word that this Kat has managed to go through his entire academic career without using -- or indeed, without even reading], and embodiment are all central to the functioning of modern legal systems. But once artificial entities become more autonomic, and less dependent on deliberate human intervention, criteria like agency, intentionality and self-determination, become too fragile to serve as defining criteria for human subjectivity, personality or identity, and for characterizing the processes through which individual citizens become moral and legal subjects. Are autonomic – yet artificial – systems shrinking the distance between (acting) subjects and (acted upon) objects? How ‘distinctively human’ will agency be in a world of autonomic computing? Or, alternatively, does autonomic computing merely disclose that we were never, in this sense, ‘human’ anyway? A dialogue between philosophers of technology and philosophers of law, this book addresses these questions, as it takes up the unprecedented opportunity that autonomic computing and ambient intelligence offer for a reassessment of the most basic concepts of law".
This is a curious and strangely compelling collection of essays, which owes more to the sci-fi philosophy of Isaac Asimov than to the practice-based structures and functional predictions of Richard Susskind. This may be because Asimov was more interested in norms of behaviour and humans as subjects of the law, while Susskind's focus is on the lawyer as technician -- though in the world of theory there is ample room for each. At base, the strength of this book is not the fact that it introduces us to the unfamiliar but rather that it introduces us to what we already know but clothes the familiar with concepts and vocabulary with which we are or may be unfamiliar.

Bibliographic data. Publisher - Routledge (a GlassHouse Book). Hardback and paperback. xv + 227 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-72015-1 (paperback), 978-0-415-59323-6 (hardback). Rupture factor: none. Price £24.99 (paperback); £85 (hardback). Book's web page here.


Cyberspace Law Censorship and Regulation of the Internet. One of the advantages of having a thoroughly distinctive name (for example: Montmorency, Talulah, Agamemnon or, as in this case, Hannibal) is that you attract instant attention: your name is always remembered, breaking the ice with strangers at cocktail receptions becomes easier and your CV always gets looked at.  Publishers Routledge are fortunate to have two Hannibals on their list of legal authors. One is Martin Hannibal, who writes on road traffic law.  The other is Hannibal Travis, who is the editor of this collection of essays.

What is this slender book about? According to the publisher:
"This book explores what the American Civil Liberties Union calls the "third era" in cyberspace, in which filters "fundamentally alter the architectural structure of the Internet, with significant implications for free speech." Although courts and nongovernmental organizations increasingly insist upon constitutional and other legal guarantees of a freewheeling Internet, multi-national corporations compete to produce tools and strategies for making it  more predictable. When Google attempted to improve our access to information containing in books and the World Wide Web, copyright litigation began to tie up the process of making content searchable, and resulted in the wrongful removal of access to thousands if not millions of works. Just as the courts were insisting that using trademarks online to criticize their owners is First Amendment-protected, corporations and trade associations accelerated their development of ways to make Internet companies liable for their users’ infringing words and actions, potentially circumventing free speech rights. And as social networking and content-sharing sites have proliferated, so have the terms of service and content-detecting tools for detecting, flagging, and deleting content that makes one or another corporation or trade association fear for its image or profits. The book provides a legal history of Internet regulation since the mid-1990s, with a particular focus on efforts by patent, trademark, and copyright owners to compel Internet firms to monitor their online offerings and remove or pay for any violations of the rights of others".
This tells the reader one thing: the debate that takes place within the pages of this enjoyable book is principally an American one. The sources are mainly American, as are the arguments, though Raphael Cohen-Almagor's chapter on the geographic boundaries of internet responsibility in particular takes us over to Europe.  The danger here is not that readers should have to read about the position in the US -- where the vibrancy of lobby groups, case law and academic writing have much to teach us -- but that people should be led to think that these issues are only of concern in America. Perhaps in time we will see a companion volume that helps to focus discussion more on Europe, where the not inconsiderable tensions between human rights legislation and the need for a free and easy single market continue to produce confusion that leads to contradiction and stasis.

Bibliographic data: Hardback and paperback, xxi + 252 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-63031-3 (paperback), 978-0-415 63030-6 (hardback). Price: £27.95 (paperback); £85 (hardback). Rupture factor: none.  Book's web page here.


The Art Collecting Legal Handbook, edited by Bruno Boesch and Massimo Sterpi, provides a fascinating perspective that ranges across 28 jurisdictions.  The countries included are well chosen: they include those in which art is not so much collected as religiously horded and jealously guarded, to those where it is amassed for commercial exploitation, to those that are known for the quality of their sale and auction services to those from which it is routinely plundered by cognoscenti and the gullible alike.

What do the publishers have to say about this work? According to the book's web page:
"Collecting, preserving and promoting cultural goods, whether fine art, archaeological objects or decorative arts, is now global. Oddly, rules and practices have remained very local, save for ICOM’s efforts at the institutional level and UNESCO’s endeavours to help preserve national cultural heritage and combat illicit trafficking.

This book is designed to help the collector and their advisers navigate the maze on an international level. Each chapter of The Art Collecting Manual addresses a number of issues from the perspective of a different jurisdiction to help collectors making errors that could be potenitally illegal. The format of the chapters follow a question and answer style thus enabling readers to make quick and accurate comparisons in multiple jurisdictions covering property law, insurance, customs, tax, inheritance, intellectual property and more.  
A collectable in itself, this title crosses the line between highly functional and aesthetically pleasing, the perfect addition for anyone who works in international art dealings".
The editors have employed a methodology which is increasingly popular these days, in which specific legal or commercial issues are identified and allocated a subheading number which is common to each national analysis. Thus '5' deals with due diligence on the part of the buyer,  '19' deals with due diligence on the part of the seller (this Kat has picked on due diligence because, in his relatively limited exposure to the world of art law, neglect of this issue has caused more trouble, more distrust and more misunderstanding than most of the other topics other than his beloved cause of artists' rights, otherwise known as  '18').

The team of contributors is a strong one. Several of the authors of national chapters have been known to this Kat for many a long year and are tried and tested in their fields of expertise; others are known by repute. This Kat is particularly pleased to note the involvement of his friend Massimo Sterpi, who has worked tirelessly to benefit the intellectual property community over the past decades and who, together with Art & Artifice blogger Angela Saltarelli, has authored the chapter on Italy.

Bibliographic data: published by Thomson Reuters in its European Lawyer reference series. Hardback, ISBN: 978-0-414-02693-3. Rupture factor: considerable. Price: £80.  Book's web page here.
Something to read? Three new titles Something to read? Three new titles Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. With reference to Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing, since Derrida's death we've needed someone to do his job of providing philosophy that is not strangled by logic and Venn diagrams. I hope this book provides a flavour of that. I think Jeremy is being a little bit unkind in comparing it to Asimov's sci-fi. The links on Rouvroy's website to pages relating to Foucault perhaps give a better indication of influences on the book. Foucault was of course a giant and a genius in understanding what makes society what it is, and very instructive in showing how philosophy could be used to really understand the behaviour of people in modern times.

  2. Comparing to Asimov is considered unkind?

    I rather think not.


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