Legality and the International Intranet

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"Our Working Language is English"
Corporate headquarters might think that English is the working language of the intranet, but an intranet manager would say differently. For example, the Compaq intranet has content in 57 different languages. In many countries it is essential that employee contracts are available on the intranet in the native language. This is especially the case in France, where a 1994 law (Loi Tourbon) outlines the requirements for transacting business (and I'm certain that would include intranets) in the French language.

Licensing External Content
Evaluating the services provided by external content providers (such as NewsEdge, Factiva, or Elsevier) is difficult enough given the range of pricing models, but the problems really start when it comes to signing the license agreement. Generally, things are easier with business information integrators than is the case with publishers of scientific and technical periodicals and databases. Regarding the latter, there can be substantial problems in trying to negotiate a single global license. Also, be sure to review the laws of the country in which the license is written. European countries in particular are concerned about contracts written under U.S. law. Information service vendors are also finding that they are spending a considerable amount of time sorting out problems with contracts, especially on a global basis. There are two invaluable resources on these licenses:

  • Liblicense provides examples of actual license agreements from a wide range of publishers.
  • sets out some model contracts for corporate, academic, and public sector organizations. These model contracts were developed in the U.K. by John Cox, a lawyer with extensive publishing experience, and are broadly applicable outside of the U.K.

Getting it Right the First Time
Increasingly, intranet managers and corporate lawyers will need to work closely together to identify and resolve issues. The time to bring a lawyer into the intranet team is now, rather than when a legal suit arrives. An absence of case law and precedent in U.S. and EU jurisdictions means that a legal team will want to take a very conservative view of potential liabilities, and this may well result in the need to redesign sections of the site and provide some clear guidelines on good practice.

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