NEWS-BITE | PR | Legal: The UK’s Copyright Tribunal considered the previously reported links licence issue yesterday, reaffirming last year’s appeals court ruling that said such a licence is required by all media monitoring organisations, but amending the fees to be paid by said agencies.
As previously reported, this affects any cuttings or PR agency, or in-house PR unit, that provides commercial media monitoring and reporting services, ie providing cuttings of or links to any coverage about a company, its operations or its competitors. Traditionally this service would involve making physical photocopies of coverage, and such copies required a licence from the copyright owner, ie the newspaper or magazine publisher. And this was usually administered by one central body, the Newspaper Licensing Agency.
Increasingly these days, though, cuttings and PR companies provide clients with lists of headlines and links rather than physical cuttings, and some in the sector argued that, as physical copies were no longer being made, no licence should be required. Which probably makes sense at first sight. But the NLA disagreed, successfully arguing in court that a copyright also exists in a headline or any URL primarily made up of an article’s headline, so even if no physical copy is made, a licence is still required – albeit a special online licence. And the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal on this matter, meaning the Court Of Appeal’s ruling in the NLA’s favour stands.
Though one additional issue is still to go before Supreme Court – one which revolves around a technicality of how web browsing works – ie when you access a website your browser makes a temporary copy of the content you see. Under EU law that temporary copy is exempt from any copyright licence requirement, though it isn’t clear whether that applies in a commercial context, especially where an article is accessed via a commercially supplied link. That particular point is still to be argued in the UK’s highest court.
This week’s hearing at the Copyright Tribunal was less to do with whether link licences are required, and more to do with what rates it’s reasonable for the NLA to charge, and what form those charges should take. On this issue the PR Consultants Association and cuttings company Meltwater, who have opposed the links licence throughout, claimed a victory last night, saying that, in an interim decision, the Tribunal backed seven of the nine changes they requested be made to the new licence. Meltwater reckons those changes could save the PR and media monitoring industries £100 million over the next three years (though, it’s worth noting, the NLA does not agree with that claim at all!).
PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso: “Both Meltwater and the PRCA have invested huge resources ensuring the PR industry and other internet users are not subject to unreasonable costs. The savings we have achieved for the industry highlight how important it was that we stood up to this scheme when others just accepted it. This is a huge win for Meltwater, the PRCA and its members. We have won the battle. We must now continue to fight to protect the broader principles of the internet. The mandate the NLA has been given is against the ethos of the internet and sets UK copyright law in a head on collision course with every day internet users. We share their concern and will now step up our campaign to make UK copyright law fit for a digital age”.
The NLA, which denies that the legal precedents that backs its links licence will ever actually affect internet users at large, also welcomed yesterday’s tribunal ruling, the impact of which it claims is far less widereaching than Meltwater says. Their MD, David Pugh, told reporters: “We welcome today’s decision which follows two court cases confirming the legality of licensing. We are pleased that the Copyright Tribunal has upheld the principle and structure of our online licensing scheme, and confirmed that Meltwater is subject to the same requirements as media monitoring organisations. The judgment provides a measured, equitable regime that will ensure stability for both publishers and end-users alike: our customers will benefit from a transparent licensing structure and newspapers can be sure of a fair reward for their content”.