PRs Lose Court Appeal On Online Story Copying

PRs have failed to overturn a court ruling that they should pay ongoing license fees for receiving links to and summaries of newspapers’ online articles.

The UK Court of Appeal today rejected an appeal by the Public Relations Consultants Association against November’s ruling, which said the Newspaper Licensing Agency is allowed to require online licenses of commercial news monitors and their customers.

The court rejected their argument that both pay-for news crawlers like Meltwater and their PR customers – who receive headlines, summaries and links to full articles – are creating only “temporary copies” of stories.

Applying the same rule to web users generally would have massive ramifications, the appellants say: “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. This judgment could prove very costly for UK businesses. Millions of professionals will unwittingly infringe copyright legislation on a daily basis by simply browsing the web.”

Indeed, simply in order to read a web page, a “copy” is transferred to a user’s computer, where it is stored. This ruling applies only to commercial users, however. One PR, Speed Communications MD Stephen Waddington, says: “This sets us back by 25 years. Anyone involved in the supply chain of web content is now going to have to pay a license fee.”

The PRCA and Meltwater will appeal this part of the rejection to the Supreme Court. They claimed a partial concession because the appeal judge noted how no cases in case law had demonstrated headlines to be copyrighted literary works. In fact, the appeal judge endorsed the trial judge’s view that headlines can be literary works – it just happens that no-one’s found a breach yet.


The Newspaper Licensing Agency was founded in 1996 by the eight national newspaper publishers to collect fees from cuttings services who photocopied print clippings for clients.

The agency last year introduced controversial new online licenses that also compel commercial digital monitors like Moreover and Meltwater to pay for crawling members’ websites, as well as their clients for receiving the ensuing “copies” of news excerpts.

The PR industry’s PRCA umbrella and the Meltwater digital news monitor took the NLA to London’s High Court but lost in November. Their appeal began in June.

Meanwhile, a case at the Copyright Tribunal, a quasi-legislative body that rules on intellectual property levies, is also set between the sides for this coming September, giving the pair a second opportunity to knock back the licenses.

Free aggregators like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) are exempt from the licenses, which the NLA requires only from commercial monitoring services.