Monday, 1st August 2011
The battle between the UK’s Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and the alliance of news aggregators and PR consultants (PRCA) continues despite last week’s Court of Appeal ruling. Back in November 2010, the High Court had served a blow to news aggregators such as Meltwater and Moreover when it ruled that, in addition to the NLA’s newspaper web licence, the commercial customers served by aggregators also required a licence. As reported by Tim Buckley Owen at the time, the High Court had ruled that, without a licence end users were infringing copyright by clicking on links and passing these on to others.
Naturally, the PRCA and the news aggregators were unhappy, to say the least, at last year’s judgement and went to appeal. The NLA, delighted at November’s ruling being upheld, hailed the decision as a “clear vindication of our decision to have two licences, one for paid-for online monitoring service providers and one for their customers”.
The appellants’ reaction at losing for a second time has been predictable. According to paidContent, they have argued that applying UK copyright law to digital media is incompatible with how we live today – a point long argued by industry experts. They also predict that the ruling will have consequences for web use in general, with “millions of professionals unwittingly infringing copyright legislation on a daily basis by simply browsing the web”.
So, while newspaper publishers are heaving a sigh of relief that at least one revenue stream is secure, it does seem bizarre that consumers of news will be charged for content that is easily available for free elsewhere on the web. After all, the NLA licensing scheme applies to commercial aggregators only. Google News, for example, which is a free service, is not affected by the ruling.
If applied, the ruling will have a severe impact on commercial news aggregators and PR firms. One representative said it “ had set back the industry by 25 years”.
However, it’s not over yet. The next step for the appellants is the Supreme Court and the Copyright Tribunal. They believe they stand a chance of winning the next round since the ruling conceded that there had been no cases that had shown a breach of copyright in a headline. The aggregators are hoping that this chink in the NLA’s defences may eventually lead to the overturn of last week’s decision. Watch out for more battle news in September.
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