Law for computing students by Geoffrey Sampson

law-computing-studentsThe purpose of this book is that most students who take a degree in computing (computer science, information systems, “informatics”, or similar) aim to find a computing-related job in a company or a public-sector organization. And that job will not involve just sitting in a back room hacking code. Jobs like that mostly disappeared with the twentieth century, and those that remain have largely been offshored to countries. Jobs for British computing graduates in the 21st century involve using technical knowledge to help a business to flourish; they are about business savvy as much as about bits and bytes. (This includes public-sector jobs; public-sector organizations do not make profits, but they run “businesses” as commercial companies do.) A crucial factor for successful business is an understanding of the broad legal framework within which business operates; computing graduates need to be aware in particular of how law impinges on information technology. The author wrote Readers need not take my word for this. In Britain, the body which lays down standards for our profession under royal charter is the British Computer Society. One function of the BCS is accrediting computing degrees: the Society scrutinizes curricula and delivery of teaching, and confirms (or declines to confirm!) that particular qualifications from particular institutions are acceptable by national standards. The BCS lays special stress on the need for computing degrees to balance technical content with substantial elements of what it calls “LSEPI” – legal, social, ethical, and professional issues. This book is about the L of LSEPI. It is true that, up to now, a BCS-accredited qualification has not been an indispensable requirement for working in our profession.


Computing is not yet like, say, medicine or architecture: no-one is allowed to practice as a doctor or an architect without a qualification recognized by the appropriate professional body, but as yet there are no legal restrictions on entry to the IT profession. However, that is because our subject is still new; the situation is unlikely to last. Already in 2006 the British government made the first moves towards introducing statutory controls on entry to jobs in computer security, and it seems probable that this trend will spread to other areas of the profession. Some university computing departments may still be teaching the subject in exclusively techie terms – the first generation of computing teachers tended to come from backgrounds in maths or engineering, so the techie stuff is what they care about. But degrees which do not have an “LSEPI” dimension yet will find that they need to develop one. In this book the readers will read Geographical perspective, Further reading, The nature of English law, Different jurisdictions, Is IT law special? The nature of the adversaries, Sources of law, Bases of legal authority, Faulty supplies, Breach of contract v. tort, IT contracts, Letters of intent, Interpretation of contracts, Torts, Intellectual property, The growing importance of intangible assets, Copyright and patent, Do we need intellectual-property laws? Copyright for software, Two software-copyright cases, Databases, The focus shifts from copyright to patent, The nature of patent law, Is software patentable? Some software-patent cases, The American position, An unstable situation, Law and rapid technical change: a case study, Film versus video, The Attorney General seeks a ruling, Are downloads publications? Censoring videos, The difficulty of amending the law, Allowing downloads is “showing”, What is a copy of a photograph? Uncertainties remain, Personal data rights, Data protection and freedom of information, The freedom of information act, Limiting the burden, Implications for the private sector, Government recalcitrance, Attitudes to privacy, Is there a right to privacy in Britain? The history of data protection, The data protection act in outline, The Bodil Lindqvist case, The data protection act in more detail, Is the law already outdated? Web law, The internet and contract, Ownership of domain names, Web 2.0 and defamation, Regulatory compliance, Sarbanes-Oxley and after, Accessibility, E-discovery and much more.

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