EDINBURGH-based PR agency, PHPR, welcomes today’s news that the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – has supported the arguments made by the PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) against the NLA (Newspaper Licensing Authority) re browsing online articles without infringing copyright law.
The NLA argument was that PR agencies monitoring newspaper coverage for their clients should pay when alerting them to links of content found online.
Says the PRCA, the Supreme Court will now refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) so that this point can be clarified across the entire EU.
It quotes its chief executive, Francis Ingham, as saying: “The PRCA is very proud to have stood up on behalf of the whole PR industry for the last few years. We are delighted that the highest court in the country accepted our argument outright.”
Penny Haywood Calder, founder of PHPR, says: “It beggers belief that the Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd (NLA) thought it could charge people for looking at a web page online if it included newspaper articles and passing on a link to an article: something millions of people probably do all over the world every day.
“It is particularly galling as the NLA is seeking cash from the PR industry and their clients, despite us alerting journalists to many potential stories and often bending over backwards to give them access to senior executives for quotes and comment. To charge us for checking to see what a publication has done with that input is, in my opinion, ridiculous.
“The entire industry has been put through unnecessary restrictions – often self-imposed for fear of infringing rights and incurring large fees. For example, we did not feel we could offer any form of media monitoring for clients as the charges were impractical for a small agency that often deals with SMEs. The introductory NLA license is for a small agency with up to five people serving just three clients.
“In our experience, we have to run more than three clients a year per consultant to break even, and it places us in an impossible situation if we get a spate of one-off launches and other ad hoc work. We are too small to risk falling foul of the rules, so we have gravitated towards B2B clients, which means we are targeting trade press rather than newspapers.
“If clients do want to target newspapers, we will send the material to them and contact the Press, but in that case we suggest clients make their own arrangements to see the results. It is galling when our client knowledge gives us the ability to go into each and every online news search in more granular detail than would be possible with a general monitoring brief involving a third party.”
According to the PRCA, the Supreme Court said that the NLA’s position would be “an unacceptable result, which would make infringers of many millions of ordinary users of the internet across the EU who use browsers and search engines for private as well as commercial purposes”.
Penny Haywood Calder added: “I have been online since 1985 in the heady pioneer days of acoustic coupled modems running at unbelievably slow speeds. I’ve watched online forums rules develop to balance the fundamental freedoms of the internet against the need to curb abuse, then watched as users developed individual codes of practice and social media policies. In nearly 28 years online, I have never seen anything as blatant as this attempt by the NLA to curtail online freedom.
“As a small business owner, I felt powerless to do anything. All credit to the PRCA and Meltwater that they have stuck with this battle. A battle that, in my opinion, should not have had to be fought. The only winners in this long, drawn-out battle would appear to be the lawyers, which, in the current economic climate, is not good news for entrepreneurial and ground-breaking newsworthy businesses and their PR support teams.”
The PRCA quotes, Jorn Lyssegen, CEO of Meltwater, as saying: “We are very pleased that the Supreme Court overruled the previous rulings of the Court of Appeals and the High Court that the simple act of browsing the internet could be copyright infringement. This ruling is an important step in modernizing the interpretation of UK copyright law and protects UK internet users from overreaching copyright collectors.”
Penny Haywood Calder adds: “It’s not yet over for PR agencies who the PRCA advises to keep paying NLA fees as ‘a precautionary measure’ until next year when the Court of Justice of the European Union is expected to report.”
PHPR is an Edinburgh-based PR and online marketing agency founded by Penny Haywood Calder in 1986 and incorporated as PHPR Ltd in 1999. The agency now specialises in B2B, technology and small businesses. PHPR has come through three recessions and spends up to a third of its time actively learning about new outlets and practical tools to effectively help develop clients’ businesses on and offline. The company is an award-winning business and a VIBES finalist – Scotland’s top environmental award for business.