Electronic reproduction of Crown copyright material

First published in the Solicitors Journal, March 1996.

On 9 February, Roger Freeman, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made a policy statement in the form of a written answer in the House of Commons, on the future administration of Crown copyright. In this statement he confirmed that the government will extend to electronic formats the concession allowing secondary publishers, without charge or permission, to reproduce statutory materials in value-added formats.

These new arrangements are set out in HMSO’s latest ‘Dear Publisher’ letter of l March 1996 (publishers being ‘all who may wish to reproduce Crown copyright material’). The conditions attaching to such publication are that:

  • the reproduction takes place within a value-added context; ie where the official text has had value added to it by compilation with other related text, analysis, commentary, annotation, indexing, cross-referencing or otherwise (this may be taken as covering both commercially published and in-house databases);
  • the source is acknowledged as Crown copyright;
  • the Crown material is reproduced accurately and in a fashion and context which is in no way misleading as to the intended meaning and application of the material

The materials covered by the concession are:

  • Acts of Parliament, Statutory Instruments and Statutory Rules and Orders.
  • Press releases from departments, agencies or other Crown bodies (but NOT for the sole purpose of providing a commercial Crown press release service per se).

For the sake of clarity, the letter adds that the concession extends to reproduction on the Internet.

In the same statement, Mr Freeman indicated that HMSO is now releasing on to its Internet service the summaries (for this read ‘tables of contents’) of more than 200 Acts of Parliament from 1984 to date, and that it is planning to publish the full texts of all new Acts on the Web in future.

The established commercial publishers are clearly pleased, although the position with quasi-legislative material, over which they were in dispute with HMSO, remains as before. The concession will also act as an incentive to smaller publishers and in-house departments, who may have held back previously, to invest in the electronic exploitation of these materials. However, the value-added and accuracy requirements should deter the outright opportunist.

While the means of added value appears to be widely defined, it is doubtful if the simple addition of a hypertext table of contents would be sufficient, particularly in relation to any new materials which may be published on the Web by HMSO with just such a feature (the Data Protection Act is the first published). Looking at the specific examples cited, compilation with other related text, analysis, commentary and annotation are the stuff which the established law publishers produce in abundance, and which is already finding its way on to the new generation of CD ‘books-onscreen’ type products; indexing and cross-referencing are of course what computers are good at (given the right instructions), and there are almost unlimited opportunities here to enhance passive texts to the benefit of the user. An important aspect of added value not specifically mentioned is consolidation. As we all know to our cost, statutes are subject to constant amendment, but only infrequently re-enacted in consolidated form. Thus the consolidation by a secondary publisher does, to my mind, by itself add considerable value.

So far as accuracy is concerned, typographical errors arise in abundance when texts are scanned and OCRed and aspirant publishers will need to implement satisfactory quality checks.

The full texts of Roger Freeman’s statement and the Dear Publisher letter are published on HMSO’s Copyright Unit Web pages. Arrangements of sections of several Acts and the full text of the Data Protection Act are on HMSO’s Acts of Parliament pages. The recent Arbitration Bill (HL 53) is also on HMSO’s Internet Publications pages though in Adobe Acrobat portable document format (PDF) Mo facilitate prompt publishing in electronic form’