Agony Aunt

November 13, 1998

Q) What is the legal position on photocopying materials provided through the internet and distributing them to students as teaching aids?; Raymonde Kilpatrick research and compliance manager, Copyright Licensing Authority.

A) "The CLA only licenses users to photocopy from paper publications on to paper. But the onward march of technology means more and more users want to copy electronically. Electronic copying needs the permission of the copyright holder, or a licence, in the same way as paper copying. It is an infringement of copyright to make an electronic copy without permission. The worldwide web is subject to copyright and web pages themselves are literary works.

The textual articles contained on web pages are also separate literary works, the graphics are artistic works and any sound files are sound recordings containing separate musical works.

In a single web page there can be dozens of different copyrights. The consent of the copyright holder is required for each act of copying. Copying starts when you start browsing. Copies are made into your computer's RAM, into your browser's cache, and maybe also at intermediate points on the network such as network caches. Provided that you are authorised to access the page in question, it is probably safe to assume that these copies, at least, are permitted. There is no clear ruling as yet on this question though.

It is not safe to assume that any other copying is permitted. If you want to print out a web page, or copy and paste anything from a web page into a document of your own, you should obtain the permission of the copyright owner. This can most easily be done by sending an email to the webmaster of the page concerned. Often permission will be granted, particularly if the page is part of a promotional site. However permission may not be given for proprietary information. The law on hyper-linking is unclear and still being made. Common courtesy is still the best solution. Before hyper-linking to another site, email the webmaster to let him or her know.

A CLA copying license does not give the user any right to store copyright material in electronic form, to make any electronic copies of copyright material, or to print out from an electronic copy. Such use requires the consent of the copyright holder. CLA is developing a licence to enable authorised users in higher education to scan and digitise printed materials for use by staff and students on intranets. Extensive consultation is now in its final stages and it is planned to launch the new licence in 1999.

Printing out, downloading, cut and paste and networking from CD-Rom are governed by the specific conditions of the licence agreement accompanying each CD-Rom.

At present there is no standard for terms and conditions and it can be difficult for subscribing organisations to enforce compliance by individuals with license terms which may differ with each CD-Rom loaded into the drive. It is, however, open to users to negotiate common terms with all their CD-Rom providers. Photocopying from CD-Rom print-outs is not permitted by a CLA copying licence.

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