NLA licensing creates FUD says Meltwater

newspaperlogosThe idea of having to pay to share links to online content published by the mainstream media is one that has stimulated much debate in the UK in recent months. Not only that, it’s generated strong opposition in the PR community, and has been to court. It’s also been the subject of an awareness-raising campaign with members of Parliament.

It’s a big topic, one that has attracted opinion and commentary from many voices, and was a central feature in a debate in London last month about the future of content.

Things came to a head in London on July 27 in a ruling by the Court of Appeal in favour of the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and its right to levy a fee on commercial consumers of web content who, from January 2010, require a licence to legally view or share such content.

I’ve written about it in this blog and, in the interests of transparency, I want to make it clear that my views are aligned with those who oppose the NLA, notably SaaS company Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).

In this guest post, Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen attempts to diminish what I describe as the NLA’s FUD by explaining his perspectives and motives. He makes it clear that this week’s Court of Appeal ruling is far from the end of this matter.

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NLA wins latest move in ‘pay for clicks’ battle

copyrightblurYesterday, the Court of Appeal in London ruled in favour of the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) in a long-running legal battle over licensing of links to content published in the mainstream media.

The latest ruling upheld an earlier court decision that anyone copying and supplying UK newspaper web content, or links to that content, to others for a fee (including monitoring or press clippings agencies and PR agencies, and from those agencies to their clients) must acquire a license from the NLA, a body that’s owned by the mainstream media.

Championing resistance to what some see as a tax or as an unreasonable method of revenue-generation by an ailing print-media industry is SaaS company Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association  (PRCA).

Both sides of the argument make powerful cases. The NLA’s, for instance, by its Director, David Pugh:

The Court of Appeal has today unequivocally confirmed the ruling of the High Court that online newspapers are copyright protected. It has given a clear declaration that most (if not all) businesses subscribing to a media monitoring service that contains content from online newspapers require a licence. We welcome this ruling and the clarity it provides for publishers, media monitoring agencies and their clients.

On the other hand, Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen sees an entirely different picture:

The ability to browse the Internet without fear of infringing copyright is a fundamental Internet principle. 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.

PRCA Chief Executive Francis Ingham’s view is that yesterday’s ruling shows that UK copyright law is incompatible with digital media. He is confident of overturning the verdict, a point he makes in this video commentary about the case that the PRCA published yesterday:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, view it at the PRCA website.)

Both Meltwater and the PRCA vow to continue fighting the NLA, and believe their appeals will ultimately prevail in overturning the NLA’s current right to levy fees. In the meantime, it looks as though PR firms will now have to pay extra for receiving news alerts about the clients companies they work for (the NLA had delayed collection of fees until their case received the legal validity they sought).

Clearly, yesterday’s legal verdict is far from the end of this matter. According to Jorn Lyseggen, the Copyright Tribunal is scheduled to rule in September on the fairness of the NLA’s licensing scheme. He says he’s confident that the Tribunal will rule the NLA licensing scheme is "over-reaching and unreasonable."

For now, though, it’s advantage NLA.

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Everyone is trying to figure out the future of content

#focdebI was looking again at some of the video recordings of last week’s debate at the British Library in London that I went to, organized by B2B SaaS company Meltwater, and which addressed the topic of “The Future of Content.”

The debate and subsequent Q&A session lasted two hours – you can watch the complete-event video as if you were there – and was a worthwhile experience listening to the keynote address from Richard Sambrook, Edelman’s Chief Content Officer (and a former Director of Global News at the BBC) and the panel members’ commentaries ably facilitated by panel chair Matthew Gwyther, the editor of Management Today magazine.

And a stellar panel it was comprising Jorn Lyseggen, founder and CEO of Meltwater (at left in the video still photo); Francis Ingham, CEO, PRCA; David Pugh, Managing Director, NLA (centre in the photo); Helen Dunne, Editor of CorpComms Magazine; and Lionel Bently (right in the photo), a specialist in intellectual property law and Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge.

How the debate was described set a pretty high expectation level:

The Future of Content will examine who will generate content in the future, how this will change the PR, marketing and publishing industries, how individuals will consume content and how/whether content could/will be monetized going forward.

It didn’t actually do that – it’s far too big a topic to be conclusive about in this kind of debate, a point many who tweeted on the day (June 6) seemed to agree with. The discussion did range far and wide over the broad questions about what is ‘content,’ what makes it relevant and valuable to a content consumer, how social media has changed the media landscape and lowered the barriers to entry for anyone with an opinion to start the conversation never mind join it, etc.

Meltwater’s Dan Purvis captured the essence of the debate well in his post including this insightful comment:

[...] We also talked about the thorny issue of “old” or “traditional” media versus “new media”. It’s not really a matter of one or the other, but more of how the values of the traditional media need to be adopted by new media, and how this old guard need to embrace the new way of communicating and make it work for them.

Lurking in the background, so to speak, is the conflict between Meltwater and the Newspaper Licensing Agency (the NLA) on a thorny issue for the PR industry and companies who provide services such as monitoring – from early 2010, anyone copying and supplying UK newspaper web content to others for a fee (monitoring or press clippings agencies to PR agencies, for instance, and from those PR agencies to their clients) must acquire a license in the UK from the NLA.

You can read about the licenses at the NLA website.

Just before the new licensing procedure came into effect, Meltwater mounted a legal challenge in late 2009, the latest stage of which was a hearing a few days ago in the Court of Appeal in London. The ruling of that court will be known soon. Writing in ORGZine, Saskia Walzel has a pretty good summary of events leading up to that appeal.

See how some influential voices have spoken about last week’s debate:

Some people might say that the debate didn’t take anything forward about the future of content that we don’t already know or talk about. So while it did offer some good opinions on the who and and the what, as it were, there was no clear path to show the why and the how of the future of content to help take the debate forward in a truly compelling way.

I think that’s largely a narrow view if you consider how the NLA licensing shadow is part of the current landscape, whatever your view on it may be. Indeed, it casts a big shadow that obscures any clear view at the moment of a future path in that description of the debate I mentioned earlier. If the licensing model is upheld by the Court of Appeal, it could have a big impact on the future of content and how that content is published and shared.

What that future might be is what everyone is trying to figure out.

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