New licence will allow law firm clients free access to publishers' work

Out-Law News | 08 Jun 2012 | 8:00 am | 2 min. read

Organisations will be able to obtain free access to some publishers' digital content through their law firm under a new licensing option on offer by the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA).

The CLA's digital 'law licence' enables law firms that hold existing licenses to access publishers' material to "supply single licensed copies" of that material in digital form to their clients under certain circumstances. The CLA said that the licence enables content to be shared from "thousands of e-books, online journals and free-to-view websites."

The licence allows law firms to send on a single copy of published material to "existing clients in connection with the provision of advice on matters" where the client has already engaged the law firm to act on its behalf. In addition a copy can be legitimately sent to clients who make "ad hoc requests" for information, providing the supply is "not as part of a continuing service or on a systematic basis."

Both prospective and existing clients of law firms can also be issued with a copy of copyrighted material under the terms of the CLA's licence "where the supply is intended to alert the prospective or existing client to some matter or issue on which further advice might be sought by the prospective or existing client or which is otherwise intended to solicit new business." However, this supply of the copyrighted works under those circumstances is again limited to "an ad hoc basis".

The licence also enables law firms to supply the publishers' material to existing clients, barristers, judicial advisers and court staff "in connection with the preparation, institution or prosecution or defence of legal proceedings or the giving of advice regarding any proceedings which may be contemplated or apprehended and to opposing legal advisers in such cases."

The law licence enables law firms to store digital copies of the copyrighted content on a "secure network" for up to 30 days generally, although some material will be able to be stored longer "if they are identified as being part of a project database being a database consisting mainly of documents, notes, letters, memoranda, e-mails and other electronic files related to a particular case or matter." The licence enables clients to access the material via the secure networks that law firms may use.

Publishers that have elected to make their material available for use under the law licence agreement include HarperCollins, Sage Publications Limited, Open University Press, the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the National Trust.

The CLA's business development manager Paul Maillardet told Out-Law.com that the licence could be used to "bolt on" to existing copyright licensing agreements that law firms may have with publishers.

"The law licence extends the digital rights that otherwise have not been available to law firms because content is being made more and more available on publishers' websites," Maillardet said. "It can be very difficult to know what the terms and conditions are for using copyrighted content, but under this licence publishers have agreed on a standard set of terms to help law firms understand what benefits they could benefit from."

In a statement Maillardet added that the licence terms had been "developed in consultation with the Law Society and City of London Law Society."

"As more and more content becomes available on websites and through digital subscriptions, the CLA Law Licence has been developed to ensure that firms are protected from the risk of copyright infringement by their employees in the form of ad hoc copying, scanning, storage or distribution of content. Without a licence or other statutory authority, even inadvertent infringement could potentially lead to damaging legal action," he said.