Tim Buckley Owen Charging for links - the battle continues
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By Tim Buckley Owen

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Having initially spoken of its respect for the right of news aggregator Meltwater to refer the issue of charging for newspaper links to the Copyright Tribunal (http://digbig.com/5bayps and follow December 2009 link), the Newspaper Licensing Agency now seems to have changed its stance.

Instead, it has written to the Tribunal arguing that Meltwater has no right to take a case to the body that adjudicates on copyright licensing issues at all, since it has not taken out a licence in the first place. 'If Meltwater wants the Copyright Tribunal to review the terms of our web licensing scheme, they should in fairness and in law, first take a NLA licence,' says the Agency's managing director David Pugh. 'By remaining unlicensed, it has a competitive advantage over other monitoring agencies and has created uncertainty for clients' (http://digbig.com/5baypp and follow January 2010 links).

Ever since this dispute started, the NLA has expressed confidence that it will win (http://www.vivavip.com/go/w83714). But some in the public relations industry claim that its case is actually quite weak. Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations Consultants Association, has suggested that the NLA's suspension of invoicing for the new charge until the Copyright Tribunal case is resolved amounts to an admission that it is uncertain its proposed new licence is legal (http://digbig.com/5baypq). Kevin Taylor, past president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, has said that the charges are unjustified and applied indiscriminately, and has urged the NLA to 'bin' the invoices (http://digbig.com/5baypr).

However the NLA has presumably now taken fresh legal advice which has given it the renewed confidence to challenge Meltwater on a technicality. One would imagine that its action will at least delay the Tribunal proceedings, thereby lengthening the period of uncertainty. Not only will commercial aggregators be caught by the new charges if the NLA wins, but so will their information manager clients who receive and forward links from them (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e21244 and http://www.vivavip.com/go/e27632).

Yet neither SLA Europe (which hosted an event on the 'free versus fee' news debate last November - see http://www.vivavip.com/go/e26538) nor CILIP nor the Association of Independent Information Professionals appear to have issued a public statement on the matter. This silence is surprising.

There are quite a few questions that information managers need to ponder while awaiting the Copyright Tribunal's ruling; here are just a couple. First, will they effectively be charged twice for using NLA members' links - once directly and once as a client bearing their share of the aggregators' increased costs? And secondly, how concerned do they need to be about online access to general news sources (not including the Financial Times) when the really high value intelligence comes from the niche publications relevant to their industry?

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