By Oliver Luft
The Newspaper Licensing Agency has launched a High Court action aimed at resolving the ongoing uncertainty over its controversial web licensing scheme.
The NLA named aggregator Meltwater News and the Public Relations Consultants Association, a representative body of the PR industry, as counterparties as it seeks a ruling on whether aggregators can copy and distribute online newspaper content.
The High Court action is the latest twist in the ongoing battle between the NLA and Meltwater over the use of aggregated headlines.
Press cuttings agencies and the PR industry currently pay the NLA fees worth £20m a year for reproducing articles in full.
At the start of the year, the NLA, which is owned by eight of the UK’s largest newspaper publishers, introduced nearly 200 licences covering the use of online headlines from newspaper publishers. All client aggregation services, bar Meltwater, signed up.
Meltwater objected to charges of up to £10,000 a year to allow it to use headlines, links, and short text extracts from online stories, and with the PRCA initiated Copyright Tribunal proceedings that are expected to be resolved next year.
David Pugh, NLA managing director,, said: “We believe that clarity on all aspects of our web licences needs to be achieved as quickly and unambiguously as possible.
“The Copyright Tribunal will rule on the commercial aspects of NLA web licensing – and we welcome and support that process – but the High Court is the proper place to decide on the legality of our web licences…
“The objective of the action we have initiated today is to achieve as swift and complete a resolution as possible for all parties – publishers, media monitoring companies and their clients.
“By seeking legal clarity on aggregator and end-user licences, the NLA aims to support the Copyright Tribunal process and end uncertainty in the market.”
Meltwater and the PRCA issued a joint statement, saying: "Having initially learned about the NLA’s decision to take Meltwater and the PRCA to court through the press, both parties have only just received the papers concerning this claim.
"While we understand that the industry will want clarification on this issue, we do not see this development as cause for concern.
"Naturally, we are reviewing the papers in consultation with our legal advisors. But not wishing to prejudice our case with the Copyright Tribunal, which we believe to be strong, we will study the NLA’s claim before responding.
"We remain confident, however, that the NLA’s proposals for a web licence are flawed and that the courts will support our views on this."