PRCA and Meltwater v. NLA latest court judgment

PRCAThe Public Relations Consultants Association and Meltwater, on behalf of the public relations industry, have been involved in a long-running dispute with the NLA (Newspaper Licensing Authority) and today the UK Court of Appeal issued the latest ruling in the long-running saga. It’s fair to say it is a mixed verdict.

The court has ruled that ‘anyone who clicks on a link and reads a news article on a public website in a commercial setting will infringe copyright unless licensed by the publisher.’

Think about that for a moment as it potentially could proved very costly for UK business and undermine the UK’s competitiveness as a global economy. The court has said that the technological process of displaying a web page on a computer is not ‘temporary copy’ exempt from copyright. This ruling means that millions of professionals will unwittingly infringe copyright legislation on a daily basis by simply browsing the web.

Meltwater Group‘The ability to browse the Internet without fear of infringing copyright is a fundamental Internet principle,’ said Jorn Lyseggen, CEO of Meltwater. ‘Society is not served by this ruling and it would be absurd if interpretation of the law should clash so fundamentally with how millions of people use the internet every day.’ As a result, Meltwater and the PRCA will seek permission to appeal this part of the decision to the UK Supreme Court.

The name of the Newspaper Licensing Agency implies that it is some sort of legitimate official organisation. In fact, it’s simply by a private profit making company owned by eight national newspaper publishing houses.

The judgment wasn’t wholly negative as it did modify the original high court ruling.

‘We welcome the Court of Appeal recognising that the High Court judgment went further than was warranted when it comes to the copyright of news article headlines. The Court of Appeal  ruled that it will be very rare that headlines are copyrightable, which is something we’ve been saying from the start,’ said Francis Ingham, chief executive of the PRCA. ‘Going back hundreds of years, no court has ever found a title worthy of copyright protection.”

‘Last word in this case has not been said,’ says Lyseggen. ‘In September, the Copyright Tribunal is scheduled to rule on the fairness of the licensing scheme pushed by the NLA. We are confident that the Copyright Tribunal will rule the NLA licensing scheme is over-reaching and unreasonable.’

The PRCA website has a video by Markettiers4dc that contains a great quote from Francis Ingham:

‘There is no point in being an industry body if you are too scared, or too lazy, or too arrogant or too indifferent to stand up for your industry.’

UPDATE: This is the video:

Meltwater also deserves enormous praise for not just being content to be a simple supplier to the public relations industry, but for standing up for the industry and putting its money where its mouth is.

An FAQ on the issues surrounding the case may be found here.

About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.