Tim Buckley Owen Web link licences - legal at all?
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By Tim Buckley Owen

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While the mills of the Copyright Tribunal slowly grind towards a decision on the Newspaper Licensing Agency's policy of charging commercial users of its members' links, the NLA has decided to shove things along a bit. It has instituted an action in the High Court with the aim of obtaining a definitive ruling on whether its licence is legal or not. 'The copyright Tribunal will rule on the commercial aspects of NLA web licensing - and we welcome and support that process,' says the Agency's managing director David Pugh. 'But the High Court is the proper place to decide on the legality of our web licences' (http://digbig.com/5bbray and click on May 2010 link).

All the major aggregators that use newspaper web content commercially have now taken out licences (although they won't actually be charged unless the matter is resolved in the NLA's favour) - with one exception. It was Meltwater News - the media monitoring and analysis arm of the Meltwater Group - together with the Public Relations Consultants Association that instead referred the NLA's action to the Copyright Licensing Tribunal (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e27632).

The NLA initially argued that Meltwater had no right to bring a case to the Tribunal since it hadn't taken out a licence in the first place (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e27815). But the Tribunal threw that argument out and ordered the NLA to pay Meltwater's and the PRCA's costs (http://digbig.com/5bbrba and navigate to Decision and Order of 18 March 2010). Faced now with this new High Court action, the PRCA and Meltwater appear to be unconcerned.

Although they refuse to go into details until they've had a chance to study the NLA claim, they say that they 'remain confident that the NLA's proposals for a web licence are flawed and that the courts will support our views on this' (http://digbig.com/5bbrbb).

Despite this, it's unlikely that the NLA would have undertaken this potentially expensive course of action had it not been pretty sure of its own ground. The Copyright Tribunal isn't expected to reach its decision until early next year, and the NLA meanwhile is looking for 'as swift and complete a resolution as possible for all parties' in order to end uncertainty in the market. Over 280 companies have taken out the new licence, and are currently waiting to see what their final bill will be if the NLA is successful.

Meanwhile, as News Corporation prepares to put all its online content behind a paywall, Penny Crossland reports that Meltwater has now been completely barred from linking to content from the Times (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e28433). Aggregators, news publishers - and the information managers who will end up having to pay for it all - will be looking for a speedy resolution of this increasingly convoluted affair.

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