Jinfo BlogLink charges - beware of what you wish for...

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By Tim Buckley Owen

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Legal uncertainties continue to dog content aggregators on both sides of the Atlantic. As participants in FreePint's current News Needs & Preferences survey ponder their responses, a couple of recent developments may provide food for thought.

If the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) wins the right to charge for links made to its members' publications, that could open the way for aggregators to send actual content to users instead of simply URLs. The suggestion is made in paidContent:UK during an interview with Meltwater chief executive Jørn Lyseggen, who is currently in dispute with the NLA over links alone - and it seems to have taken him by surprise (http://digbig.com/5bckfn). It's a further twist in an affair that actually involves two parallel cases being pursued in the United Kingdom.

At the turn of this year, Meltwater referred the NLA's charging proposals to the Copyright Tribunal, which adjudicates on such matters (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e27632) - while the following May the NLA itself sought a definitive ruling in the High Court on whether its licence was legal or not (http://www.vivavip.com/go/e29171). According to paidContent:UK, the first High Court hearing is due in November, while the Copyright Tribunal isn't expected to start till next February.

Meanwhile, though, the NLA's High Court action is an interesting reflection on the fact that, although a number of cases have been brought over the last few years, there don't yet seem to be any definitive rulings. In the United States, Kimberley Isbell of the Citizen Media Law Project reaches the same view: no case has yet addressed the question of whether aggregators' activities are legal. She has been gathering together evidence on the current state of American law regarding aggregation - and it's complicated. Isbell identifies four different categories of aggregator (feed, specialty, user-created and blog) and two distinct issues: copyright, where fair dealing may apply; and hot news misappropriation, where a news provider might argue that an aggregator's republication of time-sensitive information damages the provider's business, although a defendant might counterclaim under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which in principle safeguards the dissemination of truthful information about matters of public concern (http://digbig.com/5bckfq).

Information managers - the people who ultimately have to pay for much of this content, however sourced - may feel that they can do no more than stand waiting on the sidelines as the issues are fought out elsewhere. But they are actually the key players in the whole process, and they have an opportunity to make their voices heard. So what's the best outcome for safeguarding the creation of original content while ensuring its cost-effective dissemination? 'Free... Fee... Freemium' is the strapline for this year's FreePint News Needs & Preferences Survey (http://digbig.com/5bchet), and it's not too late to add your views.

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