Meltwater and the PRCA are back in the High Court next week to challenge the ruling from November last year that found in favour of the NLA. The ruling grants inbound internet links a copyrighted status that would require any businesses circulating them to obtain a licence from the NLA.
Tonight the PRCA organised a debate at the British Library with representatives from all of the parties concerned and an audience made up of professionals from the PR and media industry.
University of Cambridge IP Professor Lionel Bentley didn’t pull any punches when he called the original High Court ruling absurd. He said that on the same basis any headline, or title of a book or movie, has copyrighted status.
Bentley is by no means a lone voice among the legal community on this issue. I caught up with Intellectual Property & Media lawyer Steve Kuncewicz (@stevekuncewicz) of HBJ Gateley Wareing after the High Court ruling last year.
“This case only adds to the need for copyright reform to deal with businesses that are looking to thrive in a knowledge economy – if this judgment holds up, then the NLA will have a monopoly that even the old system couldn’t have intended. Meltwater would have to change their business model and PRs avoid sending aggregated versions of the coverage they generate,” he said.
The NLA Web End User Licence scheme as it stands would see everyone involved in distributing or receiving links on a commercial basis (monitoring agency, aggregator, agency and client) pay a levy. It is an attempt to prop up an old business model in a very limited way.
Google Alerts is excluded from the scheme as it is free at the point of source.
The NLA scheme is supported by its newspaper members, the majority of which outlaw the commercial distribution of links from their sites in their terms and conditions. Yes traditional media needs to protect its IP and build new business models but in 2011 when those same publishers increasingly rely on their audience to freely share and circulate content it seems increasingly outdated – and is almost certainly an application of the law in a way that was never intended.
The panel discussion kept returning to the fact that we’re at a time and a place where technology and digital media is ahead of business models, and more crucially the law. In that sense next week’s case in the High Court could be the start of the reform the UK’s archaic copyright laws.
Professor Ian Hargreaves made a start when he delivered his report on the UK’s IP framework last month. The Government’s response is expected later this month.
When I caught up with Meltwater’s CEO Jorn Lyssegen after the event he was philosophical about the forthcoming court battle that his firm is leading.
“We’ll look back at this debate in five or ten years’ time and it will be a tiny parenthesis in the history of copyright in the UK,” he said.
The PRCA should be congratulated for organising tonight’s event; the views of the PR industry continue to be well represented on this issue. And Meltwater as a lone voice among clipping agencies and aggregators deserves credit for leading the challenge, as does the NLA for turning up and openly debating this issue.
The case will be heard in the Court of Appeal between 15 and 17 June. Following the Court of Appeal, which will decide on elements of law relating to the proposed licence, a Copyright Tribunal hearing will be in September will determine the fairness o
f the proposed terms of the licence.
You can search the Twitter hashtag #focdeb for conversation from the event and a video replay of the full debate will be posted by the PRCA in the next few days.