Jinfo BlogTaxing the internet

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By Tim Buckley Owen

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After some delay, news aggregators have started responding with predictable indignation to proposals by the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) to charge them for reusing its members' content.

In a statement, four aggregators plus the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) have condemned the move as a 'blatant and unjustified attempt to tax the internet'. It was last June that the NLA announced that it would require aggregators that charge for their services, the press cuttings agencies that buy in services from them, and client companies that receive and forward these links each to take out a licence from September, and that it would charge them for those licences from the start of 2010 (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e21244).

It did also sugar the pill by offering aggregators a new wholesale service called eClipsweb - but that hasn't prevented the signatories to this statement from claiming that the NLA has 'absolutely no legal basis for demanding that people sign up' (http://digbig.com/5bager). Although the signatories - Meltwater News, New Media Intelligence, NewsNow, Updatum and the PRCA - say that they respect the investment made by NLA members in creating content, they contend that the receipt of a hyperlink by an end user gives the publishers no rights in English copyright law.

Responding in a statement to paidContent:UK, the NLA's commercial director Andrew Hughes counters that the intention is not to charge for hyperlinks as such but to fairly redistribute some of the aggregators' revenues to the content owners - adding that the NLA is looking for 'circa 10 percent' (http://digbig.com/5bages).

The aggregators claim that they are merely driving traffic to the news publishers' sites, adding: 'if and how publishers choose to monetise that traffic once it arrives is a matter for them'. Publishers' monetisation options could in due course include micropayments; as part of its strategy for implementing the Digital Britain plan (see http://www.vivavip.com/go/e15927 for the background), the government's Technology Strategy Board will be developing test beds to help businesses explore new advertising and charging models, including virtual currency and micropayment (http://digbig.com/5baget).

Whatever the final outcome, there's a risk that it could hit information managers twice - once in increased aggregator charges to compensate them for their licence costs, and a second time in the form of necessary payments direct to news publishers for content that managers feel they can't afford to ignore. It all presages some tough decision taking - and one can't help feeling that it's the news aggregators that face the greatest threat.

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