Breach of Confidence: Social Origins and Modern Developments

By Megan Richardson, Michael Bryan, Martin Vranken, and Katy Barnett


Edward Elgar Publishing Limited

170 pages


Available on Amazon for U.S. $110

As the title implies, this monograph is a tour through the history and development of the law concerning breach of confidence. The authors take us on a survey of domestic cases from common law countries stretching from the 1700s to current day, international law, and leading treatises. This title would be a good addition to any collection that supports historical legal research, particularly in the areas of privacy, intellectual property, and employment law. It would also be helpful, not just for law libraries, but for the libraries of educational institutions that offer various professional degrees.

The authors, all of whom are associated with University of Melbourne, give a good multinational perspective on their subject. Megan Richardson is a Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne and Co-Director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law. Michael Bryan is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne. He specializes in restitution, equity, trusts and commercial law. Martin Vranken is a Reader in Law at the University of Melbourne. He is primarily a labour lawyer. Katy Barnett is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Melbourne. She was awarded her PhD in 2010 and has previously published regarding breach of contract.

The authors trace the doctrine of breach of confidence from equity to tort law in England, the development of trade secrets and privacy torts in the United States, and a sort of sui generis privacy law in Canada and New Zealand. The book is arranged chronologically. We are informed how the doctrine’s beginnings are shaped by small business, private and domestic relations, and master-servant dealings typical of the time period, up through the modern urbanized capitalist society. As society shifts, so does the doctrine of breach of confidence. Along the way, much thinking is borrowed from the principles of contract law, privacy and publicity rights, public interest exceptions, freedom of speech, and whistle-blowing.

No matter how the doctrine shifts, it persists. It is shaped and applied in varying ways according to the time and culture in which it is used. But one thing is sure, breach of confidence is just as crucial a concept to us now in our information based, 24/7, instant news society as it has ever been. It is more important now than in any other time in history that we both protect information privacy and also insure access to information. The correct balance is the key, and these authors give us much to think about.

The text is presented in eight chapters. In addition there are eight pages of index and an appendix containing a table of both English and American cases. The appendix presents a chronological collection of cases including the case citation, subject matter, and digest for each. This is a great tool for the legal practitioner who wishes to use this text as a reference.

Wanita Scroggs

International Law Librarian

Stetson University, College of Law