Interview: NLA Happy That Ruling Extends Photocopy Levies To Web

Newspaper Licensing Agency commercial director Andrew Hughes declared the umbrella organisation “obviously pleased” with Friday’s High Court ruling that customers of paid-for online news monitors must pay the agency a levy for receiving alerts.

The idea it’s going to bring the internet to a crashing halt is fanciful,” Hughes told paidContent:UK.

“We welcome it as giving us a remit to go ahead, subject to the (forthcoming) Copyright Tribunal review, with our licensing scheme as we planned.”

The NLA was founded by the UK’s eight main national newspaper publishers in 1996 to collect fees for photocopying and digital copying of articles from print cuttings services and their customers. The agency already has 200,000 companies paying to make or receive print and digital-print copies, through some 8,000 main licensees. Current annual turnover from this is about £30 million, returned to publishers on a pro-rata basis.

In January 2010, the NLA introduced two new licenses it deemed are now required – one for operators of paid-for web news monitoring services, and one for those services’ customers – the latter (which Meltwater disputes) is charged via one of two options…

  1. Flat fee based on number of recipients and company employees
  2. Fee of £0.05 per “cutting” received, multiplied by number of recipients

That structure works out at a £58 starter. It’s already being taken by over 400 companies, including 150 Meltwater clients, the largest of which is paying £26,000 a year, Hughes said. “We’d expect revenues (from the web licenses) to get to somewhere between £1 million and £2 million.” But, in a fluid market, this could be determined by whether web licensing is an additional service paid by users, or whether customers simply substitute print cuttings for web monitoring.

“It’s a natural and convenient extension for the user of their existing NLA (print) license,” Hughes told paidContent:UK. “It’s simple to bolt web user copying (licensing) on to that.

“There’s real growing interest in monitoring newspaper website material. Our goal is to do that to a higher quality, with no ambiguity as to the rights of people involved in the chain.

“It’s becoming clearer to us what the scale of website copies is. Twenty percent of our press service is already (concerning) copying of website material.”

Some observers argue that it’s unfair to extend accepted rules which governed print cuttings to the online environment. But Hughes says: “There are certainly analogies –today’s ruling says web monitoring is an extension of print monitoring and should be monitored on a similar basis.

“If you go back 15 years, press cuttings agencies were a guy with a photocopier underneath an arch, worried they would get busted by police – we’re now getting better investment and quality of service.

Scraping is an inexact and crude science – we’re going to make more content available in a higher quality form. It’s very clear that professional users require professional services.” Hughes says the £0.05-per-copy rate is “quite a significant discount” on the £0.09-per-copy print levy.

The NLA will now go in to the Copyright Tribunal case, referred by Meltwater, in February to argue in support of a fee structure that the High Court has already agreed with in principal. “We’re really pleased with the clarity the judge has given us,” Hughes said. “The tribunal is a how-much body – it has powers to change the fee structure and some elements of the license.”

Had the High Court rendered the NLA’s end user license unlawful, the NLA may have revised the license it requires of monitors themselves to build in a higher fee.

The organisation launched its own eClips online cuttings service in March 2006, wholesaled to end users through 40 to 50 licensed cuttings services. Starting in the New Year, eClips will also offer web text clips, but again wholesaled through agencies like Meltwater – Hughes rejects the idea that eClips is a rival.

Though it is an NLA member, News International is not prosecuting the NLA’s web licenses, preferring its own block-and-charge stance toward crawlers – all its newspapers’ websites, as well as DMGT’s Mail Online, had already blocked Meltwater’s spiders months before Friday’s High Court verdict.