Crown copyright on Net comes under fire

The Bar Council is lobbying Parliament for free access to legal materials for people using the Internet.

The Bar Services and IT committee wants to see the government get rid of Crown copyright on statutes and related documents.

Instead the Government is proposing to introduce a payment formula for reproducing Crown copyright material in electronic format. Hansard and House of Lords judicial committee judgments are already freely available on the Net.

The Bar committee has given evidence to the House of Lords select committee on science and technology and to the Government, saying that the continuing Crown copyright in the law is out of line with most European states and that the resulting restrictions might fall foul of European competition law.

The Bar committee said the abolition or relaxation of copyright in certain areas could significantly benefit the information of the electronic publishing industries. It also suggested that "the absence of a similar regime for official information was one reason for the US's leadership in the development of the Information Superhighway".

It is now considering a response to a Green Paper, Government.Direct, published last month, which refers to the issue.

A Bar Council spokesperson said: "In our opinion, advances in information technology offer an opportunity to make a commitment to open government, cut costs for business and to encourage exports by making English legal rules openly available to the market for international arbitration. It is an opportunity for progress which we believe the Government should take."