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Earlier today, we posted a Q&A with Meltwater and PRCA, giving their reactions to the Court of Appeal's ruling in the dispute with the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA). 

Now, in the interests of balance, it's the NLA's turn to put its side of the case. I've been asking MD David Pugh about his reaction to the ruling, and whether the ruling does indeed criminalise normal web users. 

What is the NLA's view on the Court of Appeal ruling? 

The Court of Appeal has today unequivocally confirmed the ruling of the High Court that online newspapers are copyright protected. It has given a clear declaration that most (if not all) businesses subscribing to a media monitoring service that contains content from online newspapers require a licence.

We welcome this ruling and the clarity it provides for publishers, media monitoring agencies and their clients.

This positive interpretation of UK copyright law provides legal clarity and certainty for all players in the market. Publishers can be sure of fair royalties for the use of their content, suppliers of paid-for online monitoring services will benefit from a level playing field and clients of such services know that their licence provides a simple way to guarantee compliance with the law.

Why does the NLA think it is necessary to charge both Meltwater and their clients to license content?

Media monitoring agencies and PR agencies each make separate copies of publisher content and forward copies of that content to others for commercial gain. The publishers are entitled to charge a fee in respect of each of these copies. The Court of Appeal agreed. 

Do you think the ruling potentially makes millions of web users into copyright offenders? 

No. This ruling applies only to companies that make a living out of using newspaper web content for commercial purposes. Individuals browsing for personal reasons are not covered. 

Given that links and sharing content is the 'lifeblood' of the internet, shouldn't newspapers be encouraging this, rather than seeking to license it? 

They absolutely are doing so! But where there are commercial entities who make a living out of distributing content which newspapers have created and invested in, it is only right that they should pay a fair price for doing so.

If newspapers want to make money online, shouldn't they simply charge for content? 

Some do, and that is their commercial decision. But all newspapers have an interest in getting a fair return from their investment in journalism, whether they charge directly or not. That is where the NLA comes in.

Why did NLA decide to introduce the licensing scheme for media monitoring sites?  

The present licenses were introduced in 2010, and all but one of the major monitoring companies agreed to take out a license. But the idea of a license to copy newspaper content is not new.

Licensing of physical newspaper copying has existed since 1996 and has simply been extended to reflect the way in which technology has changed. What has not changed is the underlying principle behind the whole system: newspaper content is copyright, and the NLA exists to license those who use and distribute that content commercially.

How do you justify charging license fees for links to content that is freely available on the web? 

There is nothing to stop people who want to search out content on the web for free – for example by using Google alerts. But in practice it makes sense for most organisations to use a commercial aggregator, and those – and their clients – are the people who derive an income from distributing newspaper material.

We ourselves have helped make this system work better by introducing eClips web, a service that allows licensed aggregators to scrape content directly from newspaper content management systems, resulting in a better, faster service for their clients.

How does this affect other means of sharing content? For example, this blog may link to articles from news sites, yet we make money from ads and subscriptions. Are we exempt? If so, why? 

NLA licences cover businesses (like Meltwater) that charge subscribers to receive media monitoring reports – and the clients who pay for those services.

Google/Yahoo/Bing do not charge – and publishers have reserved the right to have a direct commercial relationship with them (i.e. NLA licences do not apply).

Your business does not appear to use publishers’ content in a comparable way and therefore charges would not be applicable. If in doubt you can ask the publishers!

What are your typical charges? 

End user licences start at £58 and average £500 pa to date.

Are you free to increase these charges / fees once companies and individuals have signed up to them? 

We have normal commercial rights, but we have always tried to work in partnership with aggregators to grow the market. Ultimately, NLA licence fees are subject to regulation by the Copyright Tribunal.

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 (1)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

You can understand why the NLA exists - if newspapers create content that others then package up in a way to make money from then perhaps it is fair that the newspapers get something from that. And a body is needed to co-ordinate the distribution of the content and collection of the fees.

However, I fear the NLA may not be helping itself, or its newspaper clients, in the long term if it continues to try and charge 'clients' for access to the content.

It's important here to define what I mean by 'client'. I don't mean PR agencies for starters. My simplistic version of the value chain here is as follows:

1. Tech - these are the media monitoring services. Actually a mixture of technology and services but mostly tech. They typically license their tech to PR agencies but also clients direct.

2. Agency - this lot mostly sell their time as a service to clients. They often white label the above 'Tech' solutions to their clients. Or they have their own tech solutions they come up with (though this is rare).

3. Clients - these are the 'end users' who sometimes employ a (PR) agency but lots of them also go direct to the Tech, particularly smaller companies who can't afford an agency.

It seems to me in this debate, and legal case, that when 'clients' are being referred to, essentially it is PR agencies that are being talked about i.e. the clients of the Tech companies. Not the 'end' clients.

My contention would that it is these end clients that everyone should think about much more. And, specifically, the NLA should not try and charge them.

I think it is a bad system that tries to collect money from all three of the above. Why can't the NLA, the tech and the agency lot get together and agree how charges will work in such a way that the client doesn't need to pay separately? Surely the NLA can just come up with a higher fee for the tech/agency lot in order to licence them to provide an on-service to their clients?

I'll tell you why I think this is important...

I've spoken to no less than three clients in the last six months who were bemused/shocked/horrified to get a request from the NLA to pay a license fee for their 'right' to look at content that they could see for free online. None of these clients had a PR agency. They all used the Tech direct. So what happens? They ditch the Tech completely and 'make do' with Google Alerts. So the Tech lot lose out, as does the NLA, as do the newspapers. If, however, this fee had just been included in the Tech's fees then this wouldn't have happened.

If I understand it correctly... If I got a summary of news from one of the Tech providers and I click on a link then I'm meant to pay the NLA. If I get a Google Alert and follow a link to the same thing, I don't. Well, that's odd already. However, if I get said summary from the Tech provider and rather than clicking on the link I search on the article title and go to the piece via, say, Google, then I don't have to pay? Sounds like a perfectly viable and legal 'workaround' if so?

If the NLA continue to try and charge clients (as per my definition) then they're biting the hand that feeds it. They, and the tech/agency lot, need to work out amongst them how to integrate the fees within the 'supply' side of this market and not charge the 'buy' side.

But it looks likely that the big winners will be a) lawyers and b) Google.

over 5 years ago

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