Monday 21 December 2009

Licences for links: Meltwater and the NLA

An interested and concerned reader has forwarded to me an email from Meltwater, a Norwegian-based business which now provides news and analysis services in more than 110 countries. The email reads as follows:
"Dear Meltwater Customer,

You may or may not be aware that the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) recently decided to extend its hardcopy licensing regime to cover links to newspaper website content. The NLA believes that you (our customer) need a license from the NLA in order to click on the links you receive from the Meltwater News Service. Meltwater strongly disagrees with this and has announced today that we are taking the NLA to the UK Copyright Tribunal to challenge what we consider to be a "link tax" without legal basis.
The NLA, originally formed in 1996, was created to license and collect revenue from the copying and clipping of print media. Now the agency is attempting to enforce licensing agreements on Internet links. The NLA is targeting both companies providing media monitoring services and the customers subscribing to such services.
Meltwater is pursuing this legal action after the NLA threatened to sue any online media monitoring company who fails to sign up to its new content licensing agreement by January 1. 2010. We have been in good faith discussions with the NLA for several months now, but have been unable to come to an agreement. While Meltwater respects the copyright of the NLA's members, the licensing scheme seeks to control the receipt of links to freely published online content, even though such rights are not granted to copyright owners under UK copyright law. Therefore, Meltwater has decided to take this matter to the UK Copyright Tribunal because we believe that the NLA's licensing scheme has no basis in UK copyright law.
It may take 9 to 12 months for the Tribunal to come to its decision. In this period, Meltwater will continue to serve you with links to relevant news stories and we will continue to do our very best to meet your needs. ..."
Meltwater's email also contains an attachment with FAQs relating to this dispute. The NLA website's Guidance for Clients in turn contains the following advice:
"Soft Copy/Electronic Press Cuttings

If your client receives an electronic press clipping service from a press cuttings agency either via a web portal, or if you gain access to relevant articles via web links and wish to give your clients access to their cuttings via this means, then you will need to ensure you have opted for the digital extension to your NLA licence.

Agencies must confirm to the NLA the number of email addresses they wish to supply with cuttings at each client. Clients are allowed to view the cuttings on screen without the need to be licensed. If clients wish to print off copies, or foward emails they will need their own NLA licence".
Further information is provided in the "FrontLine Survival Guide to Copyright for PR Professionals" here.

While readers are left to make up their own minds, the 1709 Blog can add a few short observations and comments: (i) if neither the provision of links to customers nor their use by customers constitute acts which are restricted by copyright, there is nothing to license; (ii) it appears from the above that, while Meltwater states that it is the customers who will require a licence, the NLA states that clients can view cuttings on-screen without the need for a licence and it is the agency that needs the licence; (iii) this is the sort of scenario in which the absence of generally-agreed international norms as to what is permitted (or not) on the internet is bound to cause persistent trouble. Links to copyright-protected material are no longer a new and unfamiliar phenomenon; the time has surely come to reach a clear and consistent consensus, so that businesses can invest in the creation, sale and dissemination of content in the knowledge that their investment either will, or will not, be protected by copyright law, by contractual licence, by unfair competition principles or by anything else.

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