Councils given digital publishing copyright freedom

Changes to copyright law introduced this week will allow councils to publish some online material provided to them by third parties.

Changes to copyright law introduced this week will allow councils to publish some online material provided to them by third parties.

The new rules will allow councils to put information provided by others as part of a statutory register online, so long as it is not commercially available elsewhere.

Ministers announced the change as part of a wider reform of copyright laws, including the removal of copyright barriers to text and data mining for non-commercial research.

Intellectual property minister Lord Younger said: “These common sense reforms will update the UK’s copyright system for the digital age, and help to build and maintain public confidence and respect for copyright.”

Previously, rules meant that material submitted to a local authority but where copyright was owned by someone else could only be viewed in person, or copied to them on an individual basis – unless the copyright holder gave permission.

From now, public bodies and keepers of statutory registers will be allowed to proactively share copyright material online without seeking permission, as long as it is not commercially available.

The same will apply to material that is already available for public inspection through some statutory mechanism, such as local planning applications.

However, the exception does not permit councils to publish material without permission that is commercially available to buy or license (such as academic articles).

The government said that the changes to the law will make it easier for the public to access information, saving both time and expense for public bodies and individuals.

It said: “It does not create any requirement for any particular material to be published online. It will be a mechanism to help avoid having to respond to repeat requests for similar material.

“Public bodies are already encouraged to publish material on their websites, so are likely to have the infrastructure for doing this.”

The UK Government started the process of copyright reform  in 2010, concerned that the existing laws around copyright were inhibiting innovation and economic growth. This resulted in the publication of a report led by Professor Ian Hargreaves entitled Digital Opportunity, A review of Intellectual Property and Growth, which argued that existing copyright protection was preventing the creation of new types of businesses.

The process has been mired in controversy as many organisations representing copyright holders saw this as weakening their ability to defend against theft and unauthorised use.

Colin Marrs

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