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Anyone who clicks on a link and reads an article on a public news website in a commercial setting will infringe copyright unless licensed by the publisher, according to a UK Court of Appeal ruling in the NLA v Meltwater and PRCA case. 

On a more positive note, the court ruled that it will be very rare that headlines are copyrightable, modifying the earlier verdict of the High Court. 

I've been speaking with Francis Ingham, Chief Executive of the PRCA and Jorn Lyseggen, CEO of Meltwater about what seems to be a very strange verdict... 

The background

As we reported in 2009, the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) introduced a licensing for aggregators and media monitoring firms that use content from its members' websites. 

Meltwater objected to the NLA's assertion that its end users receiving commercial monitoring reports also required a license in order to click the links in the reports, and referred the issue to the UK Copyright Tribunal. A ruling on this is expected in September. 

Meanwhile, as the Tribunal was unable to rule on some aspects of the dispute without guidance from the High Court, the NLA took Meltwater and the PRCA [as representatives of end users] to the High Court for copyright infringement, claiming that both Meltwater and its customers needed licences for the Meltwater service.

More background on the case can be found here

What's your opinion of this verdict? 

Francis: We think that progress has been made with the ruling that headlines are very rarely copyrightable. Over 200 years, no headline has been subject to copyright law. 

Jorn: The big takeaway from this ruling is that our position has been made stronger for the upcoming Copyright Tribunal. 

What is your next move in this case? 

F: The Court has said that the technological process of displaying a web page on a computer is not "temporary copy" exempt from copyright. We will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court as part of this ruling is unfair and unreasonable and has implications for the wider public, not just the monitoring and PR industry.

It's an absurd ruling and one that we are very concerned about. It's a fundamental thing, not just affecting businesses, but potentially criminalising millions. 

J: The ruling effectively states that millions of internet users are breaking copyright law when they click on news articles. The fact the you are creating a temporary cache on your browser when reading articles makes you a copyright offender. 

How does this ruling affect Meltwater's business? 

J: This is not a ruling that affects Meltwater any more than previous ones, it's about being reasonable. Meltwater has accepted that it will get a licence, but we object to the fact that NLA insisted that our end users also require one. 

The UK's licensing system is unique. We operate in 27 countries and haven't had any problems like this elsewhere. The NLA's approach simply doesn't reflect the way the modern world works. 

What is the PRCA"s role in this dispute? 

F: I applaud Meltwater for the stance it has taken, as it is the only firm that decided to contest the NLA's policies. Our involvement is due to the fact that end users would have been criminalised, and we have managed to delay the implementation of this system so far.

What is your view of the newspapers' stance? 

F: The newspapers, who are seeking to grow their audiences online and attract people to their websites are sending out some strange signals here to web users. 

Newspapers have a choice: they can charge for content online, or else they can rely on attracting free traffic and making money through advertising. Seeking to criminalise users for following normal web conventions on linking and sharing content is not the answer. 

Is this a case of the law simply not keeping up with the internet? 

F: I think the law is running about 20 years behind everyone else here, and the judgements reflect the fact that they haven't kept pace with how the web has developed.

J: Either the Court of Appeal has incorrectly interpreted copyright law, or the law is out of date. 

UPDATE: You can read the NLA's response in this Q&A with MD David Pugh

Graham Charlton

Published 27 July, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Pete Austin @MarketingXD

The issue is not mainly about temporary copies. It's about clauses such as this one...

"2.1. You may view (and, where applicable) listen to) the content available on the Site for personal non-commercial use. You may occasionally print individual webpages on the Site for your private non-commercial use, provided that such printing is not substantial or systematic and our trade marks and copyright and trade mark notices are not removed."

Seems that News Sites do not give permission for commercial use, as standard, and hence people such as bloggers may be in trouble.

I suggest the best reaction is for other websites to introduce a reciprocal licensing policy - forbidding access by representatives of companies which limit access.

about 5 years ago


Richard Miche

I got an email from the NLA this morning, presumably because my company got some media coverage recently. I've come across them before so I'm careful only to add my own press releases to my site and then link to stories which have been published on news sites. I did this in the knowledge, or so I thought, that linking to them wouldn't infringe any copyright laws.

In the email I received it was stated that a licence is required if you are "Circulating links from a newspaper’s website" which can only mean linking by any means, blog, tweet, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.

To be honest I was amazed. In their logic if I link to them and give them free promotion I have to pay for the privilege of sending people to their content? If this is case I'll never share another newspaper link again.

To me and everyone I've spoken to this sounds like protectionist claptrap designed to make money for the dinosaurs of the print media. All it will do if enforced is stop people accessing their digital offering, which at the moment is their only growing market.

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Richard - we had a similar approach from an NLA representative last year, and the immediate reaction was that we would no longer link to mainstream news sites, which we don't do much anyway.

We did receive further clarification from NLA to say we were exempt, but only after publishing an angry article: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8132-picture-theft-and-a-shameful-licensing-shakedown-the-hideous-double-standards-of-uk-newspapers

From the article:

"Apparently, the licences only come into force for companies with a business model that involves copying, or perhaps larger organisations that save money from copying content from newspapers. As such publishers like Econsultancy appear to be exempt. "

If it's just a company blog/news section, I would assume you're OK, but it's odd they would contact you like this.

over 4 years ago


Richard Miche

@Graham. Thanks for your response. I've heard from them before when they tried to get a licence fee for keeping clippings I'd collected myself from papers. Their letters are very unclear and quite threatening by implication. Here's the paragraph which set me off this morning. How would you read this?

Outlined below are examples of when a licence is required within an organisation:

Photocopying of newspaper, magazine and trade publication content
Scanning and emailing of newspaper, magazine and trade publication content
Digitally copying content from a newspaper’s website
Circulating links from a newspaper’s website
Printing from a newspaper’s website
copying content from newspapers or newspaper websites onto your corporate website

I hope you're right that me and others like me are exempt.

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Well, I can't offer any guarantees, and the wording does sound very threatening, as well as being unclear.

Strictly speaking it suggests that you can't link to a newspaper site, and the NLA chap I spoke to a few months ago said that just using the headline would constitute copying content. It's nuts.

They said one thing on the phone to me, and another when we published the article I linked to in the last comment. We'll adhere to the guidelines included in that article, but perhaps you need to get some clarification from them.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes...

over 4 years ago


Peter McEvoy

I've just received a call from the NLA as we use the Meltwater service feed news links to press releases about our company and other relevant industry articles on industry news sites. The NLA are asking for back dated license fees to 2010 for the service we have received from Meltwater.

I agree with the other comments here about the NLA being out of step with the web today, and their actions will only serve to ostracise the very people that financially contribute to the running of their publications. There aren't droves of successful online news sites that take the bulk of their revenue from subscriptions, so why annoy those who support these publications with advertising revenue.

Also, Meltwater have provided the NLA with my personal work details and details of the contract our company holds with them. Surely this contravenes the data protection act?

about 4 years ago

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