[JISC] Facing the Legal Challenges of Providing
Internet Access in HEIs

Organised by The JISC with support from UKOLN

Publicity Material

Until the development of the WWW in the early 1990s, the ability to collate information in book, journal or pamphlet form, and then disseminate copies on a large-scale to a world-wide audience, was almost exclusively the province of increasingly monolithic firms of international publishers, and of government bodies and international organisations. It is now the case that, by creating one copy on a Web server and allowing others to access it, an individual can publish on a similar international scale with a minimum of cost and effort. It is a degree of change in the potential for dissemination of information equaled only by the Gutenberg press, and it has occurred in well under half a decade.

What has occurred as a result of the scale and speed of that change is an equally important shake up in the laws that relate to information dissemination. However, this shake up is not without its own difficulties, and these have affected the speed that both individuals and institutions have adopted and used the developing technology.

Firstly, the law itself does not, and indeed cannot, react at such speeds, not least because the necessary knowledge base amongst lawmakers required to reach effective legal solutions is lacking.

Secondly, the rate at which individuals have been able to enter this brave new world of international publishing has at present outstripped the rate at which they can be educated in even the basics of the laws relating to publishing in their own countries.

Thirdly, those individuals and institutions who might incur legal liability as a result of their own actions, or those of employees, or of other associated persons are often unsure of the relevant law, or how to shield themselves adequately from unnecessary loss. This may result in a failure to take full advantage of the technology, or in an unreasonable disregard for practical precautions. Both these reactions are undesirable, and both are avoidable.

Aim of the Conference/Seminar

This conference is designed to provide a broad overview of the main legal issues which might arise from the provision of Internet access in Further and Higher Education establishments. In particular it will examine recent developments in the law, such as the UK Defamation Act 1996, the EC Data Protection Directive, and the Shetland Times case, and explain how these might affect the way that individual users, administrators, and institutions should approach the legalities of WWW use. To this end, the first three sessions will address the issues of intellectual property, criminal liability, data protection and defamation - the Four Horsemen of the Internet .

The conference will also address the question of "Who is Responsible?" That is, if a breach of the law occurs, against whom will the potential liability lie - the academic or the student, the educational institution or its officers. This topic will run as a thread throughout the first three sessions, but will be specifically addressed in the fourth and final session, where possible institutional Internet use strategies will be examined. This session will examine the provision of user guidelines, the implementation of institutional regulations, and good administrative practice. It will also discuss the fact that in some areas, such as copyright, educational institutions may need to ensure that they have secured and protected rights of their own, not just protected those of other people.

People who should attend:
University Administrators
Public Relation Officers
Heads of Departments
Computer Centre Directors.