Following a recent settlement with Brighton and Hove City Council the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) has warned that up to a third of local authorities could be facing costly compliance action. Brighton and Hove had failed to renew their copyright licence believing that their ‘no copying’ policy would make them exempt. However the CLA produced evidence that showed this policy was not working and proved infringement had taken place. The case highlights the need for authorities to be especially cautious because the breach was detected in only a small section of the council.

Brighton and Hove agreed to pay legal costs and retrospective licence fees for the breach of copyright laws; the authority has now taken out a Public Administration Licence.

What should local authorities be aware of?

If you do not currently hold a licence and any member of staff:

  • photocopies
  • scans
  • emails
  • prints
  • projects or displays
  • uploads and saves to an intranet

any material from books, journals and magazines you are very likely to be in breach of copyright laws. Authorities should check whether they hold a current licence. If you do not hold a licence and haven’t for a number of years then on application you will be able to backdate the licence to provide an indemnity for past breaches.

Local authorities should also ensure that, if they hold a licence, they are not breaching its terms and conditions. The CLA have strict guidelines on how much can be copied, how it is distributed and how long material can be stored.

Enforcement by the CLA

The CLA are proactively monitoring and investigating those local authorities that do not currently have a licence in order to determine if any infringement is taking place. The CLA enforces the use of the licence through a unit called ‘Copywatch’, which is the enforcement arm of the CLA. Copywatch monitors authorities where it is believed that an infringement is taking place. The unit also investigates reports, provided by individuals, of copyright infringement in the workplace. If illegal copying is found, then in some cases, its officers and employees can be held individually liable. The CLA have also been known to use to use freedom of information requests to gather evidence of infringement.

Action to take now

Authorities should ensure that they hold a current Public Administration Licence. The licence allows employees of the authority to copy from magazines, books and journals as well as to copy and re-use digital material. If your authority has educational employees these should be covered under a separate licence. The licence cost will vary depending on the number of ‘professional employees’ at the authority.

We would recommend that authorities consider the following questions:

  • Do you hold a licence granted by the CLA?
  • If so, do you hold the correct type of licence?
  • Is your licence up to date?
  • If not, for how long have you not held a licence?
  • Will you need to apply for a backdated licence?
  • Which staff have a need to copy materials?
  • Have breaches been occurring?

If a claim is already being brought against your authority by the CLA you can contact Bevan Brittan for further information and advice. If you are unsure if you hold a licence, how much it will cost or would like further information or advice about this alert please contact us.