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When technology, the law and common sense collide – the NLA copyright scandal

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 3rd August 2011

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) in respect to the dispute over the commercial sending of links to content published in the mainstream media.

If you’ve missed this running battle so far, the latest episode merely upholds an earlier ruling, which found that anyone that reproduced content from UK newspapers – or provided links to that content – as part of a paid service (e.g. media monitoring, press clippings or PR agencies) must obtain a licence from the NLA to do so.

Anyone that clicks on links or is sent content when the sender fails to have a licence will be in breach of copyright.

Google (alerts and news) will be exempt from any fees because it is classed as a consumer service.

But PR agencies and companies that use services like Meltwater (which is contesting the ruling vociferously) stand to be liable for backdated charges when the final settlement comes through.

The PRCA (the PR industry’s professional body) and Meltwater are to continue fighting the ruling and plan to take the matter to the Copyright Tribunal in September and also to the UK Supreme Court.

A fundamental right?

PR agencies are already required to pay (and EML Wildfire has and always will pay) NLA licence fees for national newspaper copies they make and/or share with their clients, but only in respect of printed materials.

This ruling would extend far beyond this. As Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen says:

“The ability to browse the Internet without fear of infringing copyright is a fundamental Internet principle. Society is not served by this ruling and it would be absurd if interpretation of the law should clash so fundamentally with how millions of people use the internet every day.”

So is this, as many have suggested, just a desperate attempt by an ailing newspaper industry (the NLA isn’t a government body, it’s a body that represents newspaper publishers) to try and recoup as much revenue as possible?

It certainly seems to fly in the face of common sense and is yet another example of how the law is constantly struggling to keep up with fast paced technological developments causing uncertainty and doubt for many businesses across the UK.

It goes without saying that we will keep a watchful eye on how this progresses and will take out any licences that apply in the future while keeping all clients abreast of what this means for them.

picture credit

Danny Whatmough