Supreme Court supports PRCA and Meltwater in landmark blow in favour of internet freedom

Last week saw a monumentally important decision for the PR industry in the UK. The Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Newspaper Licensing Authority (NLA) to make browsing newspaper articles online effectively illegal without paying an exorbitant "licensing" fee. Victory in the case, bought by Meltwater and the PRCA, means that the NLA has no legal right to claim copyright infringement merely for the act of browsing an article online, even though technically speaking the browser is making a copy of the article. The ruling will now go forward to the European Court of Justice for further clarification across the EU.

We are really happy about this as we have long felt that the attempts of the NLA – and indeed its sibling organisation the CLA – are nothing more than a thinly-disguised attempt to rip money out of people. Yes there must be protections in place for cases of genuine copyright infringement; but is it not the case that much of what ends up in the newspapers and magazines actually comes from PR companies in the first place? So how can it be right that we are being charged to view material we wrote in the first place! Not to mention the fact that without the efforts of professional and conscientious PR people helping to research and source material, the lives for many editors on the smaller trade titles would become impossible.

Here is the full announcement from the PRCA – well played, guys!

London, 17th April – The Supreme Court today agreed with the PRCA and Meltwater that Internet users have the right to browse online freely without the threat of copyright infringement.

The Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, accepted all of the arguments of the PRCA and Meltwater against the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) that browsing and viewing articles online does not require authorisation from the copyright holder, because it is protected by the temporary copy exception of UK copyright law. It has now referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), so that this point can be clarified across the EU.

The Supreme Court states that accepting 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.”

The Supreme Court further rejected the NLA’s argument that rights-holders would be exposed to piracy as a consequence, as right holders have effective remedies against those who are more obviously at fault.

Francis Ingham, PRCA Director General, said: “We are delighted that the UK Supreme Court has accepted all of our arguments, which we look forward to making again at the CJEU. The Supreme Court understood that this does not just affect the PR world, but the fundamental rights of all EU citizens to browse the Internet.”

Today’s decision represents important forward progress in the series of cases where Meltwater and the PRCA have challenged the NLA on its high fees for reading freely available news. In a previous ruling, the PRCA and Meltwater were successful in reducing the fees for all businesses totaling more than £100 million over three years. The savings for Meltwater clients alone are more than £24 million in the same period.

Jorn Lyssegen, CEO of Meltwater said: “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.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

The Supreme Court ruling can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2011_0202_Judgment.pdf

The PRCA contested at the Supreme Court in February the Court of Appeal’s decision (link) that that the temporary copies made through the purely technological process of displaying a web page on a computer to enable a user to read that web page is a violation of UK copyright law if made without the explicit consent of the copyright owner.

The PRCA and Meltwater have already reduced the cost of license fees at the Copyright Tribunal, saving an estimated £100m for the PR industry

The CJEU ruling is expected at some point in 2014

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