Winners And Losers In The News Aggregator Copyright Case

Britain’s newspaper publishers, which are losing millions every week, need to find revenue somewhere.

Most are sceptical they can charge online readers more. So requiring fees from people who found their very businesses on the material publishers produce seems like a good, and perhaps fair tactic.

That’s what the Newspaper Licensing Agency, jointly owned by those publishers, did last year when it required two new licenses – one from monitors like Moreover and Meltwater, and one from their end users in the PR business.

Today’s upholding of the contended ruling – that commercial aggregators’ clients should pay – is a blow to the PR industry. Public relations professionals will now have to pay extra for receiving news alerts about the companies they work for. The NLA had delayed collection of fees until the case got straightened out. Fees could get passed on to those companies.

Whilst those aggregators had consented to pay for their license, today’s ruling is nevertheless a blow to them, too. End users who don’t wish to pay fees may quit dedicated news monitoring packages to hack together their own solutions using tools like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News. As Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyssegen told me: “It’s just unreasonable that our clients need to pay to read articles they can find online for themselves.”

PRCA and Meltwater are trying to broaden the case out, painting it as an internet-wide assault on consumers’ ability to use the humble hyperlink. But this ruling – as bizarre as it may seem when applied in the digital age – affects commercial operators alone, and is not so much about links per se as about the headlines and story text aggregators copy in order to deliver those links. Licenses are not sought from free aggregators like Google News.

The news business, an industry teetering on the brink, will not be saved by this ruling alone. But it will count its blessings for establishing a principle that will give it some additional incremental revenue.

Although it jointly owns the NLA, News International does not execute the NLA’s online licenses and has been pursuing equivalent commercial re-use income under its own steam.