What the High Court’s ruling means for PR people

The High Court has ruled that copyright applies to headlines and text extracts taken from the web – what does that mean for professional media monitoring? The NLA's managing director David Pugh makes it clear.

There is one clear outcome for PROs from the High Court ruling – if you pay to receive media-monitoring, wherever it originates, you need a licence from the NLA or individual publishers.

If you haven’t followed the case (or the parallel proceedings in the Copyright Tribunal) closely; some background: The NLA began to discuss licensing newspapers’ web content in early 2008 – a bygone era when the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times were virtually alone in charging for their online content.

We anticipated rising demand from PR professionals for web content monitoring so we proposed two types of licence: one to enable media monitoring agencies (press cuttings agencies and their web-only equivalents) that charge for monitoring to provide a copyright compliant service; and one for their clients (PR agencies and client companies) to receive and use newspaper web content in their businesses.

Following 18 months of consultation, licences were launched and took effect from January 2010. They provide copyright cover for 990 websites published by national and regional newspaper publishers in the UK. Of the media monitoring agencies, 22 took licences – but one, Meltwater, referred the NLA’s licences to the Copyright Tribunal (a legal body that regulates licences offered by collecting societies like the NLA and PRS). This presented a problem for the NLA, because although the tribunal has the power to determine whether our licences are ‘fair and reasonable’ in terms of pricing and other conditions, it cannot decide the legal requirement for a licence in the first place. Hence our High Court action – and the judgment that licences are required by the clients of paid-for monitoring services to receive the reports they provide.

The Court’s ruling that headlines and snippets of text can attract copyright protection is important news for content creators everywhere and will keep lawyers busy for years to come – but what does it mean for publishers and for PR professionals?

For publishers, the judgment means their content cannot be taken and woven into services that charge business customers without their individual permission or another mechanism – such as an NLA collective web licence. The High Court has effectively interpreted copyright law for the internet age, ensuring that creativity is rewarded on the web, just as it has been in print for the last 300 years. The major UK newspaper publishers spend over £1bn a year creating content (however it is finally published): that investment deserves a fair reward and NLA licences play a small part in an increasingly varied equation.

For PR professionals; if you pay for a monitoring service that includes UK newspaper web content, or systematically send content to your clients, your business needs to be licensed. The NLA has already provided quotes to 450 clients, with licences starting at £58 and averaging £450 a year. If you are in doubt, we can advise you over the phone or you can use our self-calculator.

Some commentators have tried to depict this ruling as a restriction that will in some way impede the growth of the internet. In our opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. The NLA has worked closely with the monitoring industry to develop licences that enable them to keep growing and evolving their businesses, by extending their repertoire and using publishers’ web content with the certainty that they are copyright compliant. That is why the vast majority of media monitoring agencies and clients have been supportive. We believe the effect of the High Court ruling will be to support the flow of information and the development of reward for publishers and all media monitoring businesses.

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